Gryphons have come a long way in one year
By Kyle LoJacono
CITRUS PARK — Most who watched Sickles last season would be surprised to see how far the team has come in one year — including the coaches.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure how fast we would be able to turn things around,” Sickles offensive coordinator Jeff Bloom said. “It just depended on how much time and effort that the kids put in.
“Coaches can coach the best system ever, but it takes good kids buying into the system and working hard for it to work. These kids have really done both, so the credit goes to them.”
Bloom and three other offensive coaches brought the triple-option offense to Sickles from Chamberlain this season. That change helped turn the Gryphons, who were 3-7 in 2008, into a playoff team with a 7-2 record.
Bloom coached at Sickles for three years and spent the 2008 season with Chamberlain before returning to the Gryphons. With the Chiefs, Bloom learned the triple-option from current Sickles quarterback coach Brian Turner, son of retired Chamberlain coach Billy Turner.
“Bringing in several guys who were running the system successfully was a big help for us, because they were able to keep a lot of the terms and scheme together,” Sickles coach Pat O’Brien said. “The players bought right into the system, because they’ve seen how well Chamberlain was running it.”
Chamberlain went 34-16 with six playoff wins between 2005 and 2008. That included four consecutive wins over Sickles by a combined scoring margin of 162-19.
“It helped that we had three new starters on the offensive line this year who we didn’t have to un-teach things to, but in reality the scheme change wasn’t that radical for us,” O’Brien continued. “We’ve done a lot of both zone and gap-down blocking in the past, but mostly zone. Now it is more gap-down blocking, with still some zone.”
The triple-option is an offense that emphasizes running the ball first and taking strategic shots down the field in the passing game. The running back gets the ball from the quarterback, but only after forcing defenders to commit to tackling the quarterback.
Through nine games, the Gryphons have gained 2,537 yards on 359 carries and scored 26 times. That already tops the 936 yards on 254 carries and six rushing scores for all of 2008.
One of the keys to the triple-option is having a running back that can stand the pounding of having so many carries, and for the Gryphons that is junior Cary White. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound White has 1,425 yards, best in the North Suncoast, on 192 carries and 12 rushing scores this year.
That’s not only the best in Hillsborough County, but those number are the best on the North Suncoast, which includes, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
“It wasn’t that big of a change for me,” said White, who played at Gaither as a freshman and sophomore. “I just go with the flow and run what is called. I wouldn’t have those kinds of numbers if (John Melvin Hendrick) doesn’t do a great job getting me the ball, or if the O-line doesn’t block everyone like they do. It starts with good coaching and ends with everyone around me doing their job.”
As the quarterback, Hendrick, a junior, has added 386 rushing yards and four touchdowns to the Gryphons offense. He also has thrown for 801 yards and eight scores.
White’s brother, Trey, is a 256-pound freshman nose tackle who knows how hard it is to stop the triple-option.
“We mostly go against the scout team in practice that runs whatever offense the team we are playing that week runs, but we also get to go against our offense a little,” Trey, 14, said. “It’s real frustrating to go against.”
The Gryphons clinched a playoff spot by beating Class 4A, District 10 rival Leto 38-0 on Oct. 23. That avenged a 30-6 loss to the Falcons in last year’s season opener.
“Beating Leto was a big win for us, because they handled us pretty good last year,” O’Brien said. “We can’t let clinching a playoff spot make us stop trying hard, and I don’t think it will be a problem. Our last game is against Wharton, which is a game we always play for a trophy. Wharton has the trophy now and we want it back.”
The trophy has been around for 13 years, and Wharton won it last year by defeating Sickles 28-6. The Gryphons won the trophy in 2007 and this year the game will be at Wharton on Nov. 13.
Then come the playoffs, which will have much more at stake than a trophy between schools.