TAMPA — Perhaps more than any other football program in Hillsborough County the past year, Robinson High had the most success, reaching the Class 5A state semifinals, followed by the most losses, including 26 contributors to graduation and its head coach of 10 years, Mike DePue, to retirement.
Today – the first day of practice for the 2013 season – Robinson looked a lot different.
But no less optimistic.
Instead of DePue blowing the head coaches' whistle, there was 31-year-old Shawn Taylor; and instead of prolific Zain Gilmore at quarterback, there was Travis Forehand and Darius Autry; and instead of five experienced senior offensive linemen, there were five new faces, and …
“There will be a lot of challenges,” said Taylor, who graduated from Robinson in 2000 and was a Knights assistant coach. “But the good thing is that we like challenges.”
They also like their returning running backs – Aivory Foster, Michael Duclos and Jordan Guyton – who bring a solid combination of speed and power, along with their receivers – Jahrvis Davenport and Darrell Gwyn – who bring speed and soft hands.
On the defensive side, the Knights remain solid at every defensive back position with and Robert Priester and Terrance Baldwin at the corners and Brandon Peters at safety.
In the middle of the linebackers, there is a senior rock in Guyton, who collected the teams' most tackles in 2012 with 99, and earned a great deal of perspective along the way.
“I have learned what it takes to win and I believe this team this year can win,” Guyton said. “Our goal is to win every game and go for a state championship.”
The road to that goal began today with a tightly constructed, seven-hour first day installed by Taylor. The day began at 2 p.m. with paperwork and involved everything from a meal, to a motivational speech session to a practice.
Pressure? Yes, Taylor admitted, he feels the pressure.
“We have a tradition of winning here and there is pressure to uphold that tradition,” Taylor said. “At the same time I feel good because I feel we're prepared. You get nervous when you haven't prepared.”
The preparation has included many details, everything from a heavy summer weight lifting (including an increased emphasis on the junior varsity), to new carpet and paint in the locker rooms, to new decals on the helmets along with new uniforms, to working out specifics with new offensive coordinator Craig Everhart, who replaces longtime former offensive coordinator Rob Burns.
From the looks of it, on the new Knights appear to be all signing the same page, and in greater numbers. Combining junior varsity and varsity, Robinson has 100 players.
An immediate attention for coaches may be the offensive line, which graduated everybody. Taylor said senior David Miller, who did get a few snaps last year, is being called upon to lead a young, eager and potentially solid group.
“We need those guys to step up,” Taylor said. “I know they've gotten stronger in the weight room through the offseason. I feel they can get it done.”
As for who will start at quarterback, Forehand or Autry, the debate was still wide open with the 6-foot-5 Forehand more of the drop-back passer and the 6-foot Autry more of the runner. Either one, however, will work in the Knights' multifaceted offense.
“We'll just have to see how that goes (the next few weeks),” Taylor said. “Overall, though, I feel pretty good. We know we're in a tough district (Class 6A-8 with Armwood, Jefferson and Hillsborough), but we're not going to let that keep us down.
“Like I said, we expect our team to continue a tradition of winning at Robinson. That's the bottom line.”