LARGO — Having to replace one of the most successful coaches in Pinellas County football history, Marcus Paschal knows all eyes will be on him as he takes over at Largo High
But Paschal isn’t worried.
“It’s only pressure when you’re not prepared. I’ve been preparing for this. I graduated from here, went to the NFL and came back. It’s a dream for me,” said Paschal, who was hired after Rick Rodriguez stepped down in December after 15 seasons.
Unlike years past at Largo, Paschal plans to run the spread offense and put his playmakers in space.
“We’re going to run a spread-wide offense and give our guys room to roam. I don’t just want one bell cow. And with the offense we have, it will be hard for teams to stack the box like in years past.”
Paschal has the option to run, however, with running back John Clark, who will assume the starting spot and looks promising with his power running and ability to get through holes.
But the connection between quarterback Donovan Hale and wide receiver Jonathan Crawford will be the biggest key to the Packers’ success. The two have been playing together since age 8 and Paschal expects a big year from them.
“Their uncle played with me here, so I’ve known them since they were little boys. And you can see from the spring game with Hale throwing for 300 yards in only three quarters and Crawford snagging two touchdowns that their numbers will skyrocket this year.”
The other playmaker for the Packers is top returning receiver Reggie Campbell, who is academically ineligible. Paschal said Campbell should be eligible in two weeks.
Paschal looks to make his impact felt on the defensive side of the ball.
“I want to put my fingerprint on the defense. I want to sprinkle in some blitzes I learned from the great Jim Johnson during my time with the (NFL’s Philadelphia) Eagles and will run a four-man front this year with our solid defensive line,” Paschal said.
Paschal also mentioned the breakout potential of junior Benji Wright, a transfer from South Carolina.
“He’ll be a starting corner for us and has great speed. You’ll see him at receiver as well,” Paschal said.
Another player to watch is receiver Brandon Drayton, who could become one of Hale’s top targets.
East Lake looking to fill several voids
East Lake knew it would have a difficult task replacing playmaker Artavis Scott, now at Clemson.
“It’s tough. ... It’s tough to lose him and get back there, especially when you lose 11 guys to college, too,” coach Bob Hudson said.
There to fill the void at running back will be Drew Cuoto, who rushed for 437 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
“If the season began today, Cuoto would be our guy back there,” Hudson said.
Hudson also noted the play of freshman tight end Josh Fletcher, who is expected to be used on passing downs.
With George Campbell, ESPN.com’s No. 1 athlete in the country, expected to draw double coverage, he’ll need other receivers to help him. Enter Bryce Miller, who has a solid rapport with quarterback Jake Hudson working out of the slot and has shown the ability to be a deep threat.
Old friends connect, this time at Lakewood
Lakewood’s main playmaker, senior four-star recruit Ryan Davis, looked crisp in passing drills. He spent time connecting with Boca Ciega transfer Sekendric Biddines on rollout drills — the two were teammates at Northeast High a couple years ago.
Coach Cory Moore said he wants to get his playmakers the ball in space quickly this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Lakewood will look to St. Petersburg transfer Anthony Foster, an inside linebacker who was second in Pinellas County in tackles last year.
Also watch for Nyquell Alexander, a 6-5, 420-pound nose guard.
Davis optimistic about CCC’s chances
The Marauders showcased a new spread offense at practice that looked fluid from the start.
“We’re running a new spread offense this year because our quarterback, Jeff Smith, is so talented and can run, so we want to build the offense around him. We’ll let him run some read option and I think our offense is better than last year,” coach John Davis said.
That is saying a lot, since the Marauders played for the Class 3A state title last season.
Zac Kligman looked good in the slot and Davis said he has really come on this summer.
The Marauders return three starting offensive linemen as well.
A new young back is sophomore C.J. Cotman, who looked electrifying and displayed great vision.
“Cotman ran the fastest 4.4 40 I’ve ever seen and (Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher) was drooling over him,” Davis said.
But there are huge question marks on the defensive side. Tight end Brandon Junks was playing linebacker on Monday. Fullback Jon Daugherty also played linebacker. And linebacker Max Kligman played on the defensive line. Even starting guard Mike Petitgirard has been moved to defense.
“We have a good secondary, but the question is, can we stop teams that pound the ball and run at us,” Davis said.