After three straight undefeated regular seasons, Pasco High School slipped to 7-3 in 2013. They failed to win their district, making the playoffs as a runner-up in Class 5A-District 6.
That record would represent a great season for many schools, but expectations run high at Pasco. And it’s a drop in production from what the Pirates have usually accomplished under Tom McHugh.
Still, don’t expect the head coach to be disappointed in that outcome.
“Last season with the things that happened within the team internally and the players, I think that we actually overachieved,” McHugh said. “I was proud of the way everybody reacted.”
The team’s starting quarterback was dismissed from the team early in the year, causing an entire overhaul of the offense. The Pirates had planned to run a read-option scheme, where the quarterback reads the movement of the defender on the edge, and either gives the ball to the running back or keeps it himself, based on what he sees. But the team had to shift to a more traditional offense once the season started.
Abandoning the game plan you had all off-season with a full schedule ahead of you would be a challenge for any team. Add in more dismissals and injuries, and the Pirates simply weren’t the team they thought they had at the start of the season.
As a result, they went 2-3 to start the year, including 0-2 in the district. But as the players settled into their new scheme, the Pirates closed the regular season with five straight wins and kept their playoff streak alive by beating Zephyrhills High School to claim the runner-up spot in the district.
Now, with a full off-season to prepare their quarterback Grant Starling for the lead role, McHugh feels like they can not only run their offense more efficiently, but add a few tweaks to make it more effective.
“Now that we’ve run it, we can put some chrome on it now,” he said.
Starling believes having the off-season to work as the starter has already paid dividends with regard to his confidence and effectiveness.
“It really helped a lot,” Starling said. “I feel a lot more comfortable. The players feel more comfortable around me. We’ve worked together more so we have more chemistry.”
The game, he said, is slowing down for him, and he’s doing a better job of reading defenses than he did last season.
The defense also should be in good shape, with the defensive line mostly intact from last season and a strong point headed into 2014. The defensive backfield also stood out and impressed McHugh in seven-on-seven competition over the summer.
“I was really happy with those guys,” he said. “They worked well together.”
Despite some losses on the offensive line, the coach said they also have some returning playmakers and expects that part of the team to be in decent shape.
The Pirates will have some time to get things in order before facing their district opponents. After a preseason game, which McHugh said will be used to evaluate who’s in shape and how the team reacts to in-game situations, Pasco starts the season with three non-district contests.
But there’s no reason to ask McHugh about them, because he has no idea who they are. The coach doesn’t look past the first game — figuratively or literally.
“I know it sounds like I’m making it up, but I don’t ever look ahead,” McHugh said. ”I couldn’t tell you who the second game of the season is until after we play Sunlake.”
While the coach is looking to get back to his accustomed level of success and have fewer struggles than last season, he’s not sorry it happened. He said that the younger players have now learned that they can’t just step onto the field and expect everything to go their way. After fighting through last season and still finishing with a winning record and a playoff berth, McHugh hopes his athletes can apply the lessons from 2013 to have a stronger campaign in 2014.
“Sometimes you can get kind of complacent and you think it’s (winning games) just going to happen, and sometimes a swift kick in the butt will help you,” McHugh said. ”No one likes to lose, so I think in a way it’s probably a good thing that things like that happen once in a while.”
For his part, Starling knows that just being a quarterback for Pasco High School comes with expectations. But he feels the team has the ability and chemistry to live up to them.
“If you go around town, everyone knows Pasco football,” he said. “They expect a lot from you, so you’ve got to show up for them.”
LAST YEAR: 7-3
4-2 in district play
Second place in Class 5A-District 6
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS
Bowman Archibald, tight end, defensive end
Andrew Ivie, defensive tackle
PLAYER TO WATCH
Jamal Mention, offensive line
“He’s got the football mentality. When he gets his hands on you, it’s a tough thing. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll do.” — Coach Tom McHugh
2014 Pirates Schedule
8/29 — Sunlake
9/5 — at Fivay
9/12 — at Wesley Chapel
9/26 — at Nature Coast Tech
10/3 — at South Sumter
10/10 — Weeki Wachee
10/17 — Hernando
10/24 — at Central
10/31 — Zephyrhills
11/7 — River Ridge
Published August 20, 2014
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