Donavan Hale still is learning the intricacies of playing quarterback at Largo. • But his athleticism and decision-making already are drawing rave reviews in practice, so much that he could make a seamless transition in taking over the starting position from Juwan Brown, who is graduating.
With the same awareness he used to become a bona fide star on the Packers’ basketball team, Hale is making his mark on the gridiron. He showed flashes last year, scrambling to elude defenders and throwing the ball 70 yards on the run.
This season is different. Hale can receive information, evaluate situations, make decisions and execute, all at a fast rate of speed.
Now the offense moves at a basketball pace — without the bounce passes.
“I worked hard in the offseason on getting better at everything,” Hale said. “Even during basketball season, I would go to the YMCA and throw with some of my receivers just to get our timing down.”
Hale has always been a quarterback. But he also has played in Brown’s shadow, even in youth leagues.
“There were a few seasons where I’ve had to sit behind Juwan,” Hale said. “I know it’s a big responsibility taking over as the starter from him. That’s why I’m trying to make sure I’m prepared. I feel way more comfortable being in the offense a few seasons and just having better communication with everyone around me.”
Hale will have plenty of options on offense. He can turn around and hand off to Jarvis Stewart, a 1,000-yard rusher who has committed to USF. When Hale drops back to pass, he will have the luxury of throwing to a receiving corps that includes Reggie Campbell, Raheem Harvey and Cordell Hudson, all Division I recruits.
“We should be able to do big things this year,” Hale said. “My goal is a state championship.”
Barons have beef
St. Petersburg Catholic’s offensive line is sure to get plenty of attention from opponents in the fall. The Barons have three players up front who could play Division I football. Tackle Reilly Gibbons (6-foot-6, 275 pounds and growing) committed to Miami. Tackle Elevisi “Junior” Halapio (6-2, 245) and lineman Joseph Uhatafe (6-1, 220) have been getting looks from various schools, according to coach Steve Dudley.
“Wake Forest has showed some interest in Joe,” Dudley said. “And I’m sure they’ll be some interest in Junior this season.”
Offensive line isn’t the only part of the team that has Dudley optimistic this spring. Tailback Ryan Green is off to Florida State, but he played in only one game for the Barons last season. Jaquan Fuller, Chris White, Tony Jones and Stephon Williams got carries last season and all return.
“Chris and Jaquan both ran 4.4 (second) 40 (yard dashes) this spring,” Dudley said. “Tony has put on some weight, and Stephon is our physical back. We like the way they look.”
Dudley also talked track athlete Mike Rusnak into playing football for the first time to bring more speed to the offense. Rusnak will play receiver and safety. Markqus Ruppell will also be counted on at receiver.
Rising junior quarterback Jack Sheehan returns as a second-year starter. And kicker Garrett Vallario, who hit all 27 extra-point attempts and all four field-goal attempts as a sophomore, also returns.
With 30 players in the spring practices and more expected by the fall, Dudley feels good about the 2013 team.
“But I bet everyone is optimistic in the spring, right?” Dudley said.
Eagles lifting themselves higher
Standing on the football field at Indian Rocks Christian on Wednesday, coach Mark Buchanan was trying to explain the biggest change in the offseason conditioning program when the answer was staring at him a few yards away.
“Our new weight room has been a big help for us,” he said. “The school poured a lot of money into it, and it’s one of the showcases of the gym. The kids are more excited about lifting and the participation is up.”
IRC spent more than $100,000 to upgrade the team’s weight room, now located near the front of the gymnasium and stocked with state-of-the-art equipment.
As the weight room has grown, so too has the football program. The Golden Eagles have bulked up in the win column, averaging six wins each of the past five seasons.
This could be the best season yet.
IRC returns most of its skill players, including quarterback Damian King, running back Zeke McGaughy and receivers Theo Anderson and Ryan Ferguson. The offensive line is a veteran group with three-year starters Jacob McBride and Chris Parish.
“This is probably the deepest team we’ve had,” Buchanan said. “We feel like we can make a deep run in the playoffs.”
Tee time for AFA
The first local spring contest is Thursday as Admiral Farragut hosts Berkeley Prep for a 7 p.m. game.
Photo: Largo's Donavan Hale
Compiled by staff writers Bob Putnam and Rodney Page.