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NEW FACES FUELING CHANGES FOR PHU

Mark Haye's baptism as a head football coach didn't go exactly as planned.

Taking over for the retired Pete Just, who guided the Hurricanes to their first winning season last year, Haye's regular-season debut came last week in a 40-10 loss to crosstown rival Tarpon Springs.

"The players were a little down," Haye said. "It's tough coming back after a loss."

Palm Harbor University did not have to do much of that last season. The Hurricanes set the school record for most victories in a season (seven) and narrowly missed the playoffs after finishing third in a three-team district tiebreaker.

So fans might have expected a few changes. After all, when a team makes that big of a turnaround, you don't wash the socks, much less tweak the lineup.

But Haye knew things were going to be different if he wanted to keep Palm Harbor University positioned for another playoff run.

The biggest thing he had to compensate for was a loss in personnel. The Hurricanes graduated 27 seniors from last year's team and return just three starters - Ja'Tyuan Landing, Mike McNeely and Scott Santangelo.

Haye, the team's defensive coordinator before being promoted, tweaked the defensive alignment and overhauled the offense.

"I wanted to make sure the momentum and the enthusiasm carried over from last year," Haye said. "But I also wanted to make some changes. And having so many new players is good from the standpoint that they're all starting fresh and learning the system we put in place."

Haye is used to making adjustments. Last year, the Hurricanes lost two players to transfer and two others to injuries before the season started. Nevertheless, PHU allowed the fewest points in Class 5A, District 9 and finished plus-24 in turnover ratio.

Despite the mass exodus of players, there still is talent. Mark Hansson, a part-time starter on the offensive line last season, has blossomed into a Division I recruit. And Landing has solidified the quarterback position, with Santangelo a solid running mate and McNeely a capable receiver.

"We have some pieces in place," Haye said. "We just have to try to bounce back and get a win this week."

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