The Pirates are making waves again.
And not just the extremely loud sound waves from cannon fire that reverbs W.F. Edwards Stadium each time Pasco scores a touchdown. The Pirates, the county’s most successful high school football program, seemingly is back as one the area’s top teams, thanks to an impressive 4-0 start.
A start that all began with a new head coach.
“Honestly, it’s about making the kids care about football again,” said first-year head coach Alphonso Freeney, who after seven seasons as an offensive assistant at Mitchell was hired by Pasco in December. “And not just football, but care about school. First thing we had to do was get them to understand that you’re not just an athlete, you’re a student-athlete. When they started buying up there on the hill (at school), everything else started rolling.
“Because I told them, if you go to school and get that done, then you come down here (to football), it’ll be easy — doing something you love will be easy. And at the end of the day, they’re high school kids — they’re not professionals. They’re kids and it needs to be fun.”
Unfortunately, Pasco High Football — the only county team to ever win a state championship (1992) — hasn’t had much fun since 2014, which was the last time the Pirates had a winning record. After 12 seasons under coach Tom McHugh (2007-2018), the program’s winningest coach (86-50), the Pirates struggled, to say the least. Three seasons under Jason Stokes produced a 9-22 record, including a winless 2021 season that saw Pasco score just 18 points.
Last season was a brutal stretch that included two forfeited games and a season-ending 56-0 loss in the 9-Mile War to rival Zephyrhills.
“Coming from Mitchell where we were successful, I told the kids, ‘I don’t know what it’s like to go 0-10 — I hope I never have to.’” Freeney said.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s in the past, so we don’t even bring it up. We don’t go back there.
“When I first got the job, people asked how are we going to be, to give them football talk. I said, ‘I’m not going to give you football talk,’ and you know, we go off (winning), but we practice like we’re 0-0, that’s the mindset we take into each game,” Freeney added.
“But when I came in and I saw these kids, I said we’re going to be a pretty good football team and knew from the get-go we had something special.”
It seems the Pirates have found something special — lightning in a bottle in the form of senior running back Tayshaun Balmir. Through four games, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound back has rushed for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns, ranking him third and fourth, respectively, in the state in those categories. In fact, Balmir’s yards are almost 400 yards more than the next county running back: Zephyrhills’ Rodney Smith, at 465.
“I expected myself to make a little noise, but I never expected to go (that high) in the state — I ain’t gonna lie (laughs),” Balmir said. “You know, it is pretty great, so I figure I’ll just keep running when I get the ball.”
Balmir didn’t play for the Pirates last season, but was around, even if now he is formally a starter. But like all Pirate football players, he’s well aware of the history, and the community’s affinity, for this team.
“Everybody is congratulating us, and making me feel good,” Balmir said. “(What’s different from last season is) communication on the team. Last year, our players were all fighting, like we weren’t playing as a team — we were just out there playing with no direction.
“Now, it’s a lot of fun. We have fun at practice, we have fun at the games, we have fun outside of football and school — like we just have a bomb as a team.
“And, yeah, it’s fun to win, too.”
Fellow senior and linebacker Anthony Pratt agrees.
“It was really tough,” said Pratt, who leads the team in tackles (31) and sacks (five). “Coming out here every Friday and knowing you were just going to get beaten. It was, of course, not fun. But now practice is fun, the games are fun, and I feel as if we’re all on the same page out here, finally, and the results are showing we are.
“Hopefully, our offense keeps putting up points and our defense keeps stopping (the opponent).”
Cypress Creek (4-0, 0-0) vs. Pasco (4-0, 0-0)
When: TBA due to Hurricane Ian
Where: W.F. Edwards Stadium at Pasco High, 36850 State Road 52, Dade City
Coaches: Cypress Creek – Michael Johnson; Pasco – Alphonso Freeney
Outlook: Pasco and Cypress Creek head into district play, both undefeated and looking to get a leg up in the district standings for postseason positioning. Expect the Pirates to turn to star running back Tayshaun Balmir, whose 840 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns is not only best in the county, but some of the best numbers in the state. Pasco was winless last season and only scored 18 points, but has quickly turned things around under new head coach Alphonso Freeney, outscoring opponents 140-66. … The Coyotes are really churning behind a two-punch offense led by quarterback Jack Niemann (762 passing yards, nine touchdowns) and running back Malachi Askin (526 yards, eight touchdowns). This is just the sixth season in program history for Cypress Creek, which is looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
Class 3 Suburban, Region 2, District 7 Standings
Cypress Creek 4-0
Wesley Chapel 0-4
Published September 28, 2022
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.