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PATRIOTS LOOKING THE PART OF WINNERS

For years, Pinellas Park's weight room showed its age.

The paint peeled. The weights were rusty. The benches had holes. It was not a place fit for a team desperately trying to lift itself out of the doldrums.

Kenny Crawford, hired in March to take over the football program, decided the facility needed a facelift. He sent his players on fundraising missions and persuaded booster club parents to pledge their support.

The efforts helped generate plenty of upgrades, including new weights and refurbished benches. That's not all. Crawford also scrapped the black uniforms and went back to the school's traditional colors of red, white and blue.

"Some of the benches and the squat racks had probably been there since the 1970s or '80s," Crawford said. "We wanted to fix things up and restore some pride."

The weight room is nothing compared with the improvements made on the field. Last week, the Patriots beat Osceola 29-6 in front of a packed home crowd.

"You should have seen this place," Crawford said. "There was so much excitement. It was rocking."

It has been a long time coming. Pinellas Park has been engulfed in dismal performances much of this decade. In the past five seasons, the Patriots went a combined 5-45, including 0-10 last season.

Crawford knew there were obstacles to overcome when he took the job. After all, it is nearly impossible to right a downtrodden program in a year or two.

But Crawford has lifted spirits by preaching patience.

He ought to know.

Crawford bided his time as an assistant, first at Boca Ciega, then at Northeast, before getting this job. If patience is a virtue, consider the Patriots' season-opening victory Crawford's reward.

"Everybody is excited about playing football again," running back/linebacker Tony Murphy said. "Most of that comes from Coach Crawford. He brings so much enthusiasm. You know he wants to get out there and play with us if he could."

Already surpassing last year's win total, the Patriots' next task is to make it two in a row with a win over Palm Harbor University tonight.

"We know it'll be a tough game," Crawford said. "But if we can get this one we'll really be on a roll."

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