Pasco Pirates appear to be better and balanced
DADE CITY -
Pasco High offensive coordinator Brad Starling smiles when he thinks about implementing a new offense for a new football season.
“You play with the hand you're dealt,” Starling said.
Starling's hand, however, has more playmakers than most other two or three Pasco County teams combined and more numbered plays than a Dade City phonebook. † Yet, helping that transition is many factors, from a new rising star, the emergence of a confident senior quarterback and the biggest offensive line in coach Tom McHugh's tenure.
“The offensive line is bigger, which gives us more options, we've got playmakers willing to help — we're athletic and big,” Starling said. “I think we're more balanced now which may even makes us little harder to defend.”
McHugh, Starling and company know players such as Janarion Grant (Rutgers) and David Emmanuel (South Carolina State) have graduated, but new players are in line to step up. Those include rising sophomore superstar Nate Craig, who has 10 Division I offers already, and senior Malik Johns, who broke out filling in for Grant last season. And while senior quarterback Ben Chandler enters this season as the undisputed starter, he now needs a go-to running back that could emerge from Tyree Austin or others.
“You can be the kind of coach that jams a square peg in a round hole, or you can be malleable, and you can see if you have a round or square peg, and as a group, we're trying to figure out what peg can fit in what hole,” McHugh said. “We're not going to take the wrong peg and jam it. We're looking to find what we can do best … and I'm on the other side of (offense) running defense and I'm enjoying watching (what we can do).”
Starling and McHugh said Chandler is more confident behind center and won't try to do too much himself, which led to bad mistakes.
“Ben won't take himself down — he won't beat himself up if he makes a mistake and he goes back and tries to correct it,” McHugh said. “That makes him very coachable.”
“It took him a little longer to grasp what we're doing because he hadn't been around the system as long as other guys we had,” Starling added. “He's much more comfortable with the calls and signals, and we've helped him develop more confidence in himself.”
Chandler will be glad to have not just playmakers in his huddle, but the offensive line that is big and strong. Each lineman, plus the two tight ends, are all over 6-foot in height. After the region final loss to Robinson, that group bonded together, hit the weights, then proved the hard work paid off by winning the Bull in the Ring lineman competition last month.
“There was no doubt they were the strongest,” McHugh said. “They made the tug-o-war look like the tug-o-toss.”
The Pirates throw in a defense that returns most starters to a squad that had seven shutouts, including Gainesville Eastside in the region semifinals.
“I know we can go further than we went last year even with losing the three big players we from last year,” Chandler said. “We have the team and players, we just have to work a little bit harder than we did last year. … We've got some good athletes on our side of the ball, and I'm glad they're on my team because we can do some even bigger things this year.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.