TAMPA - From his timeworn golf cart, Robinson coach Mike DePue rolled onto Jack Peters Field to find the Tuesday afternoon breeze mildly crisp and devoid of humidity.
"Weather-wise, this is the coolest spring I can remember in 33 years," he said.
Which is to say meteorologically, May has worked out perfectly for DePue and his staff, who need all the optimal teaching conditions they can get. The Knights, whose 20 victories over the past two seasons rejuvenated both the program and Port Tampa community, are rebuilding.
The top rusher from last season's Class 2A state semifinal team? Gone. So are the quarterback, top two receivers and top five tacklers. Offensively, DePue expects to start only two seniors this fall. Defensively, the linebacker corps has been totally gutted by graduation.
Yet, with his trademark rasp, DePue speaks of this group with a percolating, wait-til-you-see optimism.
"I think we're up on the learning curve, and if we can have a real positive summer, I don't think anybody should sell us short next year," he said. "Again, we've got some key voids in our offense and defense that hopefully we can have some kids step up."
Currently, rising juniors Vidal Woodruff and Antonio Hampton are vying to replace Elon-bound quarterback Blake Rice, with DePue suggesting the competition will stretch into the fall.
Elsewhere, rising juniors Martin Ruiz (20 carries, 159 yards in '10) and Carlos Euclid step in for 1,500-yard rusher J.J. Hubbard. Protecting them will be a line clearly greener, but perhaps bigger physically.
Defensively, cornerback Victor Rivera (team-best six INTs) is back, but he'll likely garner more attention now that offenses needn't throw away from graduating fellow DBs Frankie Williams (Purdue), Ruben Gonzalez (USF) and Marqus Baker (Buffalo).
"Right now, these kids are learning," said DePue, who has roughly 40 kids in camp. "Spring is just a fundamental thing, and then we'll see what happens in the fall. It's all about the fall."
No way number of the day
5 Robinson rising senior K/P Kody Thomas' national ranking among kickers in the 2012 recruiting class, according to ProKicker.com. Thomas, who hit four field goals as a junior, has an average kickoff hang time of 3.86 seconds, according to the site. He also averaged more than 37 yards per punt in 2010.
"Visibly, we are very physically better. I'm the weight room instructor during school hours and …about two months ago it started kicking in; they just looked better. Now, I don't know how that's going to equate to wins and losses, but they sure look better, they jump higher, they're quicker with their feet. The (weight) program is slowly but surely starting to kick in." - Seffner Christian coach Steve Lewis, on the strides his second-year program has made from its inaugural spring to now
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