Change is inevitable. Change is tough. People are naturally resistant to change; even when they are trying to accept it. Just like “they” always say, “nobody said it would be easy.” After 14 seasons of dominance for the Largo Packers under Rick Rodriguez, last season’s record of 6-5 with a first round playoff loss to Armwood 38-0 under first-year Head Coach Marcus Paschal must have felt as painful as dropping a bag of bricks on your exposed feet. During Rodriguez’ regime, the Packers were the most-consistent team in Pinellas County posting a 123-40 record from 2000-2013. Largo were district champions ten times, including nine consecutive seasons from 2005-2013. They were back-to-back regional champions in 2007-08. Last season may have looked inconsistent on paper for the Packers in terms of their expectations, but they actually did achieve consistency (which is a positive during major change) and when you look at the results and what lies within the roster this season could look diametrical to 2014 for Coach Paschal and his crew.
So, where is this “consistency” that has been mentioned? Well, looking back so that we can look forward, starting with their results. Here was the first (tongue-in-cheek perhaps) bit of consistency. The Packers defeated Northeast 40-0, then got beat by East Lake 42-0. They bounced back with a 13-6 victory versus Gibbs, then lost a two-point heartbreaker to Jesuit. After alternating wins and losses, the Packers doubled-down and beat Lakewood 32-27 and then Osceola by a 21-7 margin. Things got a little weird when the district title was on the line against Venice. In what appeared to have been a Rays versus Red Sox game masquerading as a public high school football game, the Packers were defeated 5-3 by the Indians and had to basically settle for second at that point.
Largo had to lick their wounds and manned-up the following week against a very talented Lake Gibson squad, but that hard fought game against the Braves resulted in a loss 24-20. At this point, the Packers 4-4 and looking at a run-in with Dixie Hollins and ending the season with Countryside. The Packers won a shootout with Dixie 55-41, (a must-win game if they wanted to make the playoffs) then defeated C’Side 27-20 to end their regular season at 6-4. If your scoring at home, that’s win, loss, win, loss, win, win, loss, loss, win, win. That’s symmetry. That’s also consistent. If you take out the 80-0 combined score of the East Lake and Armwood games, taking into account that both of those programs did that to several other programs as well, then you have Largo losing three games by a total of eight points. What you can point to is that throughout the season, throughout the entire first year of a major transition, things might have gone better than realized and with the talent that is returning to the squad and some progression from a true freshman the Packers might be right back to their expected levels of success sooner rather than later.
Now, the present and future. Gone are studs Donovan Hale and Jonathan Crawford. Appearing is true freshman, Isaiah Bellamy. He stands at 6-foot-3, and weighs 210-pounds, but needs time to develop. Bellamy was at E7 and showed pretty well, but also showed that he really is a true freshman; as in a ninth-grader not an 18-year old 5-star that is expected to take the keys to the E-Class and try not to crash it. Bellamy will be the true wildcard in the equation, but there’s plenty of upperclassmen that can bear some of that weight. Largo’s known for carrying a “small” roster a la Cocoa on the eastern side of the state. Not small in terms of size, but small in terms of numbers. They are asked to play (and produce) on both sides of the ball and that’s what three of these four guys do well. The other is a blossoming prospect at the running back position (E7 RB MVP John Clark) that will help Bellamy’s transition into big-boy football become a little smoother if he can stay healthy.
The main component to Largo’s success may fall on WR/DB Dakarai Allen. Allen was the leading receiver (574 yards, 2 TD’s) and tackler (73) on the team last season for the Packers. Allen possesses the ability to create mismatches for smaller corners and DB’s at 6-foot-2, 180-pounds and plays much bigger than that frame. As long as Allen stays relatively healthy from the wear-and-tear of playing both sides of the ball, the offensive and defensive production the Packers need to navigate their district from him should be just as good as last season, if not much better. Largo also has the luxury of having another guy of nearly identical size and skills in Brandon Drayton. He stands at 6-foot-2.5 and weighs-in at 180-pounds. Drayton racked up 60 tackles at his natural position on the defensive of things, but he also caught ten passes for 254 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
The other players that figure to influence Largo’s future will be ATH Isaiah Thomas and E7 Defensive End MVP Javaris Sanders. Thomas played sparingly at the QB position, but showed he could (in a tight spot) take the reigns if needed. Thomas also added 39 tackles as a defensive back and Sanders brings his rapid progression to the fold trying to build on a season that saw him make 35 tackles and record 3 sacks. Largo will head down the road to Pinellas Park to take on a team that is chocked full of players very similar to the Packers’ style on May 21st for their Spring game. This fall, a new district awaits them as Clearwater, Northeast and Boca Ciega join them in 6A-9 along with familiar foes Dixie Hollins and Osceola from the past two seasons. Their “main” obstacle appears to be Clearwater, but with the recent departure of Head Coach Donnie Abraham this season that’s a situation that could end up in-flux for the Tornadoes and the district could be wide open.
So with a little “more” consistency this season and some maturation, the Packers could find themselves in a familiar spot; the spot that Head Coach Marcus Paschal achieved as a player when he was at Largo; the spot that Rick Rodriguez achieved so frequently the media penned-not-penciled the Packers into it before the summer even began. Because with success comes responsibility and expectations; and “consistently” meeting them.