Here is the good news as St. Petersburg officially begins football practices for the 2019 season: The turf field — the first for a public school in Pinellas County — will be ready to go for the home opener Aug. 30 against Venice. In fact, it should be done in time for a scrimmage Aug. 9.
The bad news? Graduation and transfers mean the Green Devils will have a much different, and inexperienced, team on that turf. Twenty-two players graduated from last year’s 6-4 team. Coach Joe Fabrizio expected that. What he didn’t expect was that 11 players would transfer. Of those, nine were seniors.
“Basically, they believed that their talent didn’t fit our system of play," Fabrizio said. “I’m not going to change our system, so if they believe that then can find another place to play."
The biggest transfer, arguably, is two-year starting quarterback Tonio Shavers, who threw for 965 yards on a team that typically runs first. He had three interceptions in 109 attempts as a junior. Shavers attempted to transfer to Largo, then tried to return to St. Petersburg. Fabrizio said he will not be allowed to return to the team.
“He will not play for us," he said.
That leaves the quarterback position wide open. The Green Devils must also replace their entire backfield as well as all of their linebackers. Including the players who graduated, St. Petersburg lost a total of 33 players from last year’s varsity roster of 49.
“I’ve never had seniors transfer before this year," Fabrizio said. “That’s the way it is now. We’re going to play with who we’ve got. Can’t worry about it."
But the Green Devils may need to worry once game action starts. Fabrizio made his schedule thinking he would have an experienced team. Now he may not be as competitive against non-district opponents like Lakewood, Venice, Wiregrass Ranch, South Sumter and Palmetto. Dixie Hollins, Boca Ciega and Northeast are the district games.
“The way it is set up, if we can win our district we can go to the playoffs," Fabrizio said. “That will be our goal, as it is every year."