Zephyrhills High School – 1996-1997


Highlights of 1996-1997

Bulldogs Pickett Decides He’ll Play Ball at Ohio State, by John C. Cotey, St. Petersburg Times, December 14, 1997

Ryan Pickett, rated by some recruiting services as the best high school defensive lineman in the country, has spurned Florida State and Florida with a surprising college choice:

Ohio State.

Pickett, an agile 6-foot-3, 293-pound lineman for the Zephyrhills High Bulldogs, said he has verbally committed to play for the 10th-ranked Buckeyes next season.

“A lot of people were surprised. I know my mom was,” Pickett said. “But I liked the people in the city, I liked the coaches and I liked the players.

“I felt I fit in perfect up there.” Pickett had decided not to visit college suitors during the Bulldog season, except for one trip to Alabama, reasoning that he needed to concentrate on helping his team make the playoffs. Once the season ended with a 24-0 loss to Gainesville Eastside on Nov. 28, Pickett scheduled the trip to Columbus for last weekend.

It turned out to be the only trip he needed. Unmoved by 23-degree weather and snow – and a weekday visit last week from Florida Gators coach Steve Spurrier – Pickett told the Ohio State coaches he would be back in the fall before he even got back on the plane to return to Zephyrhills.

Pickett spent his trip visiting with players at practice Saturday and had a chance to size up his competition for next year.

Coach John Cooper told him that if he reports in shape next fall and performs well enough, he would play right away.

“Cooper said that it’s up to me,” Pickett said. “They are losing two senior starters. I believe I can play early.”

The Buckeyes, who play in the Big Ten and will meet Florida State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, plan to use Pickett as a left defensive tackle. That is the primary position he was recruited for by most schools, although he also received much attention for his play on the offensive line and at linebacker.

Ohio State has sent a number of players the past few years to the NFL, including Joey Galloway, Robert Smith, Orlando Pace, Shawn Springs and Eddie George. It has contended for the national championship the past three seasons, each time falling short.

Pickett had four sacks and 142 tackles this season, mostly as a middle linebacker. He was moved to the position after the Bulldogs suffered a series of injuries and defections. Even at his size, he was remarkably effective and dominating, as evidenced by his 16 solo tackles in the playoffs against then-unbeaten Crystal River.

“We played Ryan at linebacker this year out of necessity,” Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher said. “Last year, if we lined him up on the left, teams ran to the right. With him in the middle, they couldn’t choose which side they wanted to run to.

“He is so quick off the ball for someone his size. That’s what any (college coach) will tell you. They liked his quick feet and how he reacted to the ball.”

During his career at Zephyrhills, Pickett set school records for sacks (15.5), tackles behind the line of scrimmage (52) and quarterback hurries (20).

A third-team Class 4A all-state selection last year, Pickett is expected to be named to the prestigious USA Today High School All-American Football Team this week. He already has been picked as the District 9 Player of the Year. The district represents five counties and 22 schools. The accolade earns him the right to play in the Florida-Georgia All-Star Game, and he was chosen two weeks ago as the Sunshine Athletic Conference Player of the Year.

If Pickett signs with Ohio State on National Signing Day on Feb. 5 (verbal commitments are non-binding), he will be the second from his family to play for a Division I school. Brother Booker, now a stockbroker in Clearwater, was a standout at Zephyrhills before playing linebacker for the University of Miami, graduating in 1996.

Hometown Gives Green Bay Packers Lineman A Hero’s Welcome, Tampa Tribune, March 4, 2007

Zephyrhills-Hometown football hero Ryan Pickett spent last week relaxing at home with friends and family after his first season with the Green Bay Packers.  

Pickett, 27, a standout defensive lineman at Zephyrhills High School, has played six seasons in the National Football League.

He went back home to Houston on Saturday after spending a week in Zephyrhills said sister Sophia Pickett of Brandon.

Highlights of Pickett’s visit included a welcome-home party last weekend and a three-day family vacation to the Disney theme parks in Orlando, his sister said. “Ryan is very laid-back,” she said. “He’s a simple guy.”—Staff report

Top of the Class, St. Petersburg Times, January 15, 1997

Winners of the Science Fair are: Best Team, Jennifer and Jimmy Cracchiolo; Best Display, Jennifer and Jimmy Cracchiolo; Best of Show, Gregg Hilferding; First place for individual projects: Melanie Bowman, Shandy Viney, James Dykins, Sonia Thompson, Cathy Jacobs, Stephen MacMullan, Ryan Dye, Jessica Steve and Rachel Taylor; First Place Team, Jason Moss and Charley Demosthenous; second place individual projects: James Carpenter, Tazia Stagg, Travis Thomas and Nick Demosthenous; Second Place Team, Allison Taylor and Maggie McCleland; Bill Chandler and John Mason. First-place winners advance to regional competition at River Ridge Feb. 15.


Top of the Class, St. Petersburg Times, March 6, 1997

The jazz band received a superior rating at the district festival. Sonia Thompson is a finalist in the National Achievement Scholarship competition. Merit scholarship finalists Charles Garrod and Michael Sinatra also deserve recognition. Deena Rogers and Kevin Barry represented the school in the emerging leader’s conference in Tallahassee.

Even At NFL Pinacle, He’s Still From Pasco County, St. Petersburg Times, by Roger Miller, February 3, 2002

His eyes still have that glitter. His face still has that equatorial smile. His mood still is as infectious as it was when he was sacking quarterbacks for Zephyrhills High School.

Ryan Pickett, the St. Petersburg Times All Suncoast Player of the Year in 1997, is basking in great fortune but never abandoning his down-home roots.

“I can’t forget where I’m from,” said Pickett, a reserve defensive tackle for the St. Louis Rams. “I’m Pasco County. I’m the same guy who played for the Bulldogs, the same guy.”

Today, that same guy who tormented River Ridge, Gulf, Hudson and Pasco high schools, will finish what has been a challenging rookie season in the NFL with an appearance in the game’s greatest event, the Super Bowl.

But when you listen to him talk, and you watch how he goes about the business of granting interviews and juggling the responsibilities of being a professional athlete, Pickett, who still goes by the nickname Grease given to him as a teenager, seems to have changed very little.

“Man, this is the Super Bowl,” he said. “I’m in the Super Bowl and it’s been like a dream come true. I would never have thought that I would be here, but here I am. It’s been unreal.”

What also has been unreal is Pickett’s journey to the big game. A heralded offensive and defensive lineman, he was the youngest of four Pickett’s to play for Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher. And following in the footsteps of older brothers Booker, Reuben and cousin Damien, Ryan Pickett became one of the county’s most impressive high school players.

An intense recruiting war followed and Pickett, surprisingly, chose Ohio State University over a number of top rated teams in the South, including state powers like Florida and Florida State.

In Columbus, Pickett was made a starter immediately and after three standout seasons he felt ready to move on the NFL and declared for the draft.

The Rams selected him with their third pick of the first round (29th overall) and what had been a football career made easy by raw talent suddenly changed perspective.

“You know, when he first got here I thought he had no chance to play,” said Rams defensive line coach Bill Kollar. “He was out of shape, showed no quickness, no effort, I mean it was as bad as you could imagine. It was like taking a guy off the street.

“He was in pitiful condition. He couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t run, he was always tired. I guess he didn’t realize what kind of work we put in here in the pros, even in mini camp (in April 2001) and it sort of shocked him.”

Kollar said Pickett, now 22, likely had some sobering moments during his mini camp baptism and he reacted positively.

“By the time we got into regular camp (late July), he was in decent enough shape to where he was able to compete,” Kollar said. “And now, all of a sudden, you started to see that quickness he has. He kept going and saw the other guys working and

hustling; now he works as well as anyone on our field.”

Kollar said the Rams had to start from scratch and teach Pickett a number of techniques and impress upon him that relying on raw talent wasn’t enough.

“He’s come a long, long way since we first drafted him and saw him in the first mini camp and he still has a long, long way to go,” Kollar said. “But he has made huge strides.”

Pickett’s good natured personality and respectful approach to his elders have gained him brownie points among the veteran players on the defensive line.

Former Bucs defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, now a Ram who just completed his ninth season in the league, said that as 

Pickett was indeed struggling to become a pro at the start of the season, most of players in the Rams locker room were in his corner.

“Grease is a good kid and the kind of kid you want to see succeed,” Ahanotu said. “He’s not pretentious, doesn’t have any ego and you would never think he’s a first-round pick.

“He was really struggling, as all rookies do, I was there too, he was in certain situations where we would get on him on certain things. There were times when he was really messing up, close to imploding; I had to cover my eyes. But now, he’s made so many strides we call him ‘Professor.’ That’s how far he’s come. You ask him a question, he knows it.”

“It was a challenge for me,” said Pickett, who was inactive for five of the Rams first nine games but has since played in nine straight. “I had never been in that kind of situation before. I had always been a starter, always did things on instinct, now I had to become a pro, had to learn to be on the bench.”

But while today’s game marks the end of the season, for Pickett it also marks the beginning of the most important year in his pro career.

It is a commonly held belief that most professionals can make their biggest strides or biggest slips between their first and second seasons.

“I told him about that,” Ahanotu said. “I was sitting on the sidelines with him during practice and I said, ‘Grease, this is the time when you have a chance to slip and lose the things that you gained this season. It’s been a long year for you and you may want to go out and hang out in the off-season and let it all go. That’ll be a mistake. You’re going to have to watch out for that.’ I hope he was soaking it in.”

Kollar feels the same way.

“I think he realizes what it takes and what his work ethic has to be,” Kollar said. “The key will be his working out in the off-season and how he comes back to our place in March for the off-season conditioning program. I think he can end up having a real good year for us next year.”

Zephyrhills Wrestlers Take Two State Titles by Rick Gershman, St. Petersburg Times, February 24, 1997, Section: Pasco Times.

For someone favored to win the title, Dan Zawicki’s effort at the high school state wrestling tournament started off rather poorly.  Friday, the Zephyrhills High senior was in the first round of the Class 4A tournament at the Bayfront Center. Since Zawicki qualified for state as a region champion, he was facing a fourth-place region opponent, a seemingly easy match for Zawicki.

But immediately, Torrance Pugh of Clewiston led the admittedly overconfident top seed Zawicki 5-0.

“I felt that I was going to win (state), and I guess it hurt me in my first two matches,” Zawicki acknowledged. “I found myself down and I had to come back.” Zawicki went on to win that match and three more to become Zephyrhills’ first-ever state champion.

Also winning a state title was Pasco High senior Chris Hancock, who found the going a bit smoother in winning the 130-pound title in 4A. Hancock, who like Zawicki was the top seed in his division, romped through his opening three matches to reach Saturday night’s championship final, where he faced a familiar foe. Standing in the way of Hancock’s title was one of only two wrestlers to defeat him this season: Tampa Jesuit sophomore John Solomon.

Then again, Hancock already had avenged that loss by defeating Solomon the last two times they met. Hancock made it three straight with his 5-3 victory in the 130 final.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hancock said. “That’s what I’ve been dreaming about for all four years.”

Zawicki, 17, also faced a familiar opponent from Tampa Jesuit in his final. It was Chris McLaughlin, whom Zawicki had defeated three times before this season, most recently with a 14-3 major decision.

McLaughlin fared better this time, though Zawicki pulled out a 4-2 win while dealing with a pulled right calf muscle.

“I don’t think (the injury) made a difference in the match,” Zawicki said. “I just think (McLaughlin) was wrestling really well; he’d gotten a lot better, and I probably was a little overconfident.”

However, Zawicki never trailed in this one, going up 2-0 on an early takedown and increasing it to 4-0 before McLaughlin picked up a couple of third-period points.

Earlier that day, Zawicki pinned Lake Region’s Jason Smith in the semifinals after leading Smith throughout. It was a nice change from having to come from behind twice Friday.

In the opening match against Pugh, Zawicki turned a 5-0 deficit into a 9-6 victory by scoring several near falls, in which a wrestler comes close to pinning the opponent. He later won his second match 4-2 over Poinciana’s Brent Kewley despite trailing 2-0 early.

Zawicki (33-3) finished second in the state at 160 last season. He came into this tournament expecting to win, but to him it’s no big deal.

“(The championship) was just like any other match I won,” he said. “It didn’t really hit me that it was the state final. It was just wrestling McLaughlin again. I don’t want to get a big head about it.”

Zawicki credited Zephyrhills coach Kevin Epifanio with teaching him the lesson that would be most crucial in this tournament:

“He taught me how to come back from losing a match to win it, to keep from getting down on myself,” Zawicki said. “That helped me out the most.”

Hancock, 18, said he also benefited from quality coaching, not only from Pasco head coach Joe Thompson but also from assistant coach Ken Zdrojewski.

Zdrojewski was very familiar with Hancock’s mission because he won a state title in the very same 130-pound division for Pasco last year.

“Training with Ken the whole year was a real advantage,” said Hancock, who nevertheless did not receive any special advice from Zdrojewski before the title match. “He just told me that I was on a mission, and I had to get out there and do it.”

Hancock (34-2) briefly trailed in the final when Solomon scored a point by escaping Hancock’s grasp. Hancock scored a takedown to go up 2-1 but allowed another escape to tie the score at 2 entering the final period.

This time, Hancock escaped Solomon to go up 3-2, and then took Solomon down again to make it 5-2. Another Solomon escape at the end made it 5-3.

Pasco County had three other wrestlers place in the state tournament.

Though only a sophomore, Ridgewood’s Dustin Swanton was a Class 5A state runner-up, reaching the 112 final before losing 3-1 to Toby McDonald of Venice. Swanton finished the season at 35-4. His teammate, senior Brian Matheson, won four matches to finish fourth at 119.

Hudson senior Billy Flood, a 4A runner-up last season at 130, had his title hopes at 135 dashed in the first round with a 3-2 loss to Jacksonville’s Scott Weinstein.

However, Flood battled back in the consolation bracket, recording two 11-0 decisions and a 39-second pin before earning a rematch with Weinstein. Flood won that 5-3, and followed with a 9-7 win in the consolation final to earn third place.

Bulldog Beacon Newsletter of Zephyrhills High School, Fall 1996

Congratulations to Jennifer Dubay and Frank Quaglia “Commended Students” in the 1997 National Merit Scholarship Program.  They placed in the top 5% of more than one million students taking the 1995 PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.


The ZHS Future Homemakers of America installed the following officers for 1996-97: President: Becky Craft; President-Elect: Seana Karpys; Secretary: Julia Philpus; Treasurer: Raquel Slovia and Historian: Beverly McQuay.

ZHS Wrestling

The ZHS Wrestling Team started their season with a win against Citrus. The team has a strong line-up with a lot of returning members including state runner-up: Dan Zawicki, James Leach, Mike Rachaner, Eric Beasley, Scott Nabozny, Ethen Rouse, Richard Darling, Daniel Fleshood, and Chris Palmer. New to the team this year are David Summers, Chris Shroeder, Chris Harrelson, and Steve Wright.

Dodd is All State in Soccer by Jim Carson, St. Petersburg Times, March 19, 1997, Section: Pasco Times

All-time scoring leader Erin Dodd of Zephyrhills High picked up another honor Monday when she was named to the Class 4A all-state soccer team.

Dodd, a forward/midfielder, scored 44 goals this year to break her own single-season record and her 147 career goals also is a school record. She helped Zephyrhills win district titles in 1995 and this season, when the Bulldogs reached the region semifinals before losing 1-0 to Durant.

Dodd also was named the Times’ all-North Suncoast offensive player of the year this season and was a four-time all-Sunshine Athletic Conference selection.

Dodd also played for the West squad last week in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association all-star series. She has not announced her college plans.

No other Pasco County players were named all-state, despite a state final four appearance by the River Ridge boys and a region semifinal appearance by the Royal Knights girls.

Two players from Hernando High, which placed second to Zephyrhills in the district, also were named all-state. They were forward Lindsey Copeland and goalkeeper Aliza Loveday.

Top of the Class, St. Petersburg Times, April 7, 1997

Kyla Morse, a junior at Zephyrhills High School, has been selected to participate as a member of the American Christian Youth Chorale. Chosen from students nationwide, Kyla will perform nationally and internationally in the 1997 “One Nation Under God Tour.”

Erin Dodd Signs with Memphis, St. Petersburg Times, by Jim Carson, May 1, 1997

You might say Erin Dodd is all shook up about the college scholarship she accepted Wednesday.

The record-breaking Zephyrhills High forward is headed to the University of Memphis, the city that was home to Elvis. And while Dodd might pay a visit to Graceland while she’s there, school and soccer will be her top priorities.

Dodd accepted a partial scholarship to the Division I school with the expectation that more aid will be offered after her freshman year. Dodd turned down an offer from South Carolina.

“I just loved the school and I really liked the coaches,” Dodd said. “And I’ll get more aid after my first year, depending on how I do as a freshman.”

If Dodd matches her accomplishments at Zephyrhills, she should do just fine. She scored a school-record 147 career goals and this season broke her own school record with 44 in leading the Bulldogs to a district title. Zephyrhills also won a district title in 1995 when Dodd scored 43 goals.

“Erin is very deserving of this,” Zephyrhills coach Mike Stepp said. “She has given everything she has for four years and this is a very nice reward for her. I’ve always said she had the ability to be a Division I player.”

Stepp said Dodd had a huge impact on Zephyrhills’ program.

“It was her spark and her attitude,” Stepp said. “Even when she came in as a freshman she was a leader. She was someone everybody else looked to. They saw her abilities and she inspired them to be better players.

“And as far as coaching goes, she was the most coachable player I have ever seen. She listened and didn’t give you any back talk. She loved playing the game.”

Dodd was a four-time member of the Times All-North Suncoast team and was the offensive player of the year this season.

“This makes all the hard work worth it,” Dodd said. “I’d just like to go up there and get a starting position and do my best.”

Dodd said she plans to major in business or accounting.


Zephyrhills High School First Annual Awards and Scholarship Night, Zephyrhills Sun, by Mary A. Harman, May 29, 1997

The activities building of Zephyrhills High School was filled with family, faculty and staff of ZHS on Wednesday evening, May 21, for the Zephyrhills High School Sports Booster Club’s 1st Annual Awards and Scholarship Night directed by President David Fritz, who gave the welcome, followed by Mr. James Davis, ZHS principal, who thanked the Booster Club for what they are doing in giving the Athletic Scholarships. Mr. Davis said, “I have told some of the other principals in Pasco County, what the Booster Club is doing and they can’t believe that we can have an Athletic Booster Club that can provide that kind of assistance.”

To begin the awards, Coach Tom Fisher, assisted by Mr. Fritz presented the Football Sports Awards to Lorenzo Limoges, Most Outstanding Player, Nick Carroll, Most Outstanding Defensive Back; Ryan Pickett, Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman; Mike Barber, most Outstanding Offensive Back; Eric Beasley, Most Outstanding Lineman; Kevin Widener, Most Improved Player and Gary Steele, Coaches Award. The senior football players for 1996-97 were J.B. Wilson, Jerome Pruno, Kevin Widener, Mike Barber, Mike Holmes, Sean Fitzgerald, Lorenzo Limoges, William O’Steen, Justin Monbarren, Jason Wise, Eric Beasley, Tim Delgado, and Jason Grzywna.

Coach Pat Moul presented the Volleyball Sports Award to Jennifer Fritz, Heart and Soul to Jennifer Strickland and Most Improved to Loraine Clausnitzer. The senior volleyball players for 1996-97 were Jennifer Fritz and Deena Rogers.

Coach Dave Jones, who announced that he would not be coaching after this school year, presented the Girl’s Cross-Country Sports Award to Renae Neale-Best Runner; Karen Cornelius, Most Improved Runner and Krysten Jones, Coaches’ Award. The only senior girl cross country runner for 1996-97 was April Ciulla.

Mr. Jones followed by presenting the Boy’s Cross Country Sports Awards to Kevin Barry, Best Runner; Chris Poe, Most Improved Runner and James Carpenter, Coaches’ Award. The senior cross country runners for 1996-97 were Kevin Berry, James Carpenter and Mike Foss.

Coach Ernie Pittman presented the Girls Basketball Sports Awards to Kristen Schleicher, Most Improved Player; Nicole Gingerich, 3-D Award (Dedication, Desire and Determination); and Sonia Thompson, Most Valuable Player. The senior girls’ basketball players for 1996-97 were Deena Roberts and Sonia Thompson.

Athletic Director and Coach Craig Milburn presented the Boy’s Basketball Sports Awards to Teon Black, Most Improved; Rey Lopez, Coaches’ Award; Demetrius McKay, Most Valuable Player and J.J. Coley, Best All-Around. The senior boys’ basketball players for 1996-97 were Ben Ashmore, Mike Foss, James Howton and Julian Rivera.

Coach Mike Stepp presented the Girls Soccer Awards to Erin Dodd, Offensive Most Valuable Player, Adrienne Harris, Defensive Most Valuable Player and Melissa Tibbs, Coaches’ Award. The senior girls’ soccer players for 1996-97 were Amy Cleary, Natasha Palmer, April Cuilla, Erin Dodd, Megan Wastrack and Adrienne Harris.

Coach Chris Bounnel presented the Boy’s Soccer Awards to Geoff Castro, Best Offensive Player, Brian Hussey, Best Defensive Planer and Jason Andrews, Most Improved. The senior boys for 1996-97 were Charlie Garrod, Ken Hallahan, Larry Kraus, Jon Ridenour, and David Rhoden

Coaches Kevin Epifanio and Matt McDermott presented the Wrestling Sports Awards to Eric Beasley, Most Improved, Mike Rachaner, Coaches’ Award and Dan Zawicki, Most Valuable. The senior wrestlers for 1996-97 were Eric Beasley, Richard Darling, Jimmy Leach, Mike Rachaner and Dan Zawicki.

Coach Chris Bounell presented the Weightlifting Sports Awards to Sean Fitzgerald, Most Outstanding Lifter; Chris Poe, 100% Award and Chad Denman, Most Improved. The senior weightlifters for 1996-97 were Sean Fitzgerald, Craig Livingston, Gabe Torres, Jason Gryzwna, Mike Sinatra, Chad Denman, Lorenzo Limoges, T. J. Fiscarelli, Eric Beasley and Tim Delgado.

Coaches Kim Anderson and Paulette Forney presented the Football Cheerleading Sports Awards to Amanda Baldwin, Most Spirited, Jami Stalnaker, Most Improved and April Evenson, Best All Around Cheerleader Award. The senior cheerleaders were Kori Wade, Amanda Baldwin, Jami Stalnaker, April Evenson, Emilee Lewis and Morgan Steward.

The Basketball Cheerleading Sports Awards were presented to Emilee Lewis, Most Spirited Award; Lanika Harrold, Coaches’ Award, and Molly Mead, Most Improved. The senior basketball cheerleaders for 1996-97 were April Evenson, Emilee Lewis and Lanika Harrold.

Coach Pat Moul presented the Girl’s Softball Awards to Jennifer Strickland, Heart and Soul Award to Nicole Gingerich, Heart and Soul Award and Heather Britton, Most Improved. There were no 1996-97 seniors on the girl’s softball team.

Coach Bruce Cimorelli presented the Boys Baseball Sports Awards to J.D. Porter, Most Valuable Player, Brad Blessing, Most Valuable Player and Brett Cimorelli, Golden Glover Award. The Senior boy’s baseball players for 1996-97 were Justin Monbarren, Brad Blessing and J.D. Porter.

Coach Belinda Brown presented the Girls Tennis Sports Award to Ayako Tanaka, MVP, Julie Sumagpang, Best Attitude, and Rehka Krishnaraj, Most Improved. The senior girls’ tennis players for 1996-97 were Ayako Tanaka and Julie Sumagpang.

Coach David Camper presented the Boys Tennis Sports Awards to Brian, Bliss, Captain, Joshua Hinkle, Most Valuable Player and Nathan West, Most Improved. The senior boys’ players for 1996-97 were Brian Bliss, Shelby Denman and Mac Sumagpang.

Coach Gary Butler presented the Girls Track Sports Awards to Jennifer Phethean, Most Outstanding, Renae Neale, most Improved, and Tazia Stagg, Coaches Award. The senior girls track members for 1996-97 were April Ciulla, Holly May and Tazia Stagg.

Coach Dave Jones presented the Boys Track Sports Awards to Ryan Dye, Best Track Athlete, Paul Perez, Most Improved, and Rey Lopez, Coaches’ Award. The senior boys track members for 1996-97 were David Belcher, Kevin Berry, Eric Beasley, Ryan Dye, Mike Foss and J.B. Wilson.

Coach Bob Hatfield presented the Boy’s Golf Sports Awards to Jared Brown, Scoring Leader, C.J. Funnell, Most Improved and Chuckie Daniels, Coaches’ Award. The senior boy’s golf players for 1996-97 were Paul Bott, Chuckie Daniels and Colin Christopher.

Coach Paulette Forney presented the Girl’s Golf Sports Awards to Tracy Negoshian, Best Golfer, Andra Howell, Most Improved Golfer and McKensi Milburn, Most Dedicated Golfer.

Jennifer Fritz was the only 1996-97 senior on the girls golf team.

The highlight of the evening to conclude the presentation of the awards was the presentation of the first ever Zephyrhills High School Bulldogs Sports Booster Club Scholarship Awards of 12—$500 each, presented by the Sports Booster Club President David Fritz to Benjamin Ashmore, Kevin Barry, Eric Beasley, Shelby Denman, Erin Dodd, Michael Foss, Jennifer Fritz, Michael Mann, Michael Rachaner, Deena Rogers, Sonia Thompson and Jason Wise.

Other Bulldogs Sports Club officers are Don Eisenbrown, Vice President; Elaine Clausnitzer, Secretary and Bruce Scheuerman, Treasurer.

Top of the Class, St. Petersburg Times, May 7, 1997

Saturday is prom night. The school advisory committee meets Monday at 8 a.m. in the media center. Renae Neale won best of show and a $100 award in the Congressional Art Competition. Her work, entitled My First Love, a Self Portrait, will be on display in the Washington office of U.S. Representative Michael Bilirakis.

Barber Signs for Football at North Dakota School, St. Petersburg Times, by Roger Mills, May 16, 1997

He wanted to play college football. He wanted a full ride. And he wanted to stay close to home.

Two out of three ain’t bad.

Zephyrhills High star running back Mike Barber, the school’s all-time rushing and touchdown leader, Tuesday signed a national letter of intent to play at Mayville State University in Mayville, N.D.

Yup, North Dakota.

Barber, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound tailback with excellent field vision and turn-the-corner speed, will get a full ride with the NAIA Division II team that plays in the North Dakota College Athletic Conference.

“The ducks have to leave the pond sometime,” said Barber’s father, Mike Barber Sr. “I know it’s a long way from here, but Mike will do just fine.”

Barber, the featured runner for the Bulldogs over the last two seasons, leaves the state with impressive credentials. A two-time All-Sunshine Athletic Conference first-team selection, he ended his career at Zephyrhills with 3,229 yards and 32 touchdowns.

As a senior, he rushed for 1,343 yards and 15 touchdowns. In his final game as a Bulldog, he rushed for 272 yards on 14 carries and scored three touchdowns as Zephyrhills rolled to a 39-13 win over Gulf.

“He’s a very quick back whose best asset is field vision,” said coach Tom Fisher. “He learned to use his blockers very well and anticipates the holes made by the offensive line.”


Zephyrhills High Series: Charles Garrod and Tazia Kallenbach Stagg Series, St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 1997

The Zephyrhills High School valedictorian for the class of 1997 is Charles Garrod, 18. Graduating with a GPA of 4.36.

Charles took advanced classes in calculus, biology and American history and honors classes in everything ZHS offered.

The son of Curt and Vicki Garrod of Zephyrhills, Charles was editor of the ZHS school paper and a National Merit finalist.

He participated in Odyssey of the Mind, honor roll and National Honor Society. In his spare time, he enjoys playing soccer and working on computers.

“My parents and friends are just great,” Charles said. “ZHS is a pretty good school. We had a great Odyssey of the Mind team and always placed very high. Just this year we placed second at state.”

In the fall, Charles will enter Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., to pursue a career in engineering or to eventually teach engineering. Tazia Kallenbach Stagg

Tazia Kallenbach Stagg, 18, is the Zephyrhills High School salutatorian of 1997. She graduates with a GPA of 4.25, with advanced studies in biology, English and calculus as well as a wide variety of honors classes.

Tazia lives in Wesley Chapel with her parents, William and Linda Stagg, and is not only a scholar but an accomplished athlete. This past week, Tazia came in third in the 800-meter 4-A Florida state track meet, and her relay team placed in the top ten in the 4 x 800 meter race.

“I really enjoyed going to ZHS,” Tazia said. “It’s a nice school. I liked the teachers, and we have a great principal. My parents are always encouraging, and my older sister, Mandie, was a big help . . . especially with calculus.”

Tazia made academic all-conference, honor roll and National Honor Society and participated in basketball and track. In the fall, Tazia is going to USF to study medicine.


Finally Out of Here, St. Petersburg Times, June 8, 1997

Unfettered joy combined with relief and a bit of sadness as 1,850 seniors graduated from Pasco’s seven regular high schools on Friday.

Zephyrhills- Bobby Davis was ready for his diploma.

“I can’t wait,” he said moments before the graduation ceremony started. “I go to work Monday.”

The graduate starts a $9-an-hour job at Lykes Dispensers where he’ll be a production technician, building juice machines. In August, when he turns 18, Bobby plans to start training to learn to repair air conditioners. He made a beeline across the room where seniors assembled before the ceremony to shake the hand of principal Jim Davis, who is no relation. The class of 1997 started as freshmen when Davis started as principal, so he was particularly proud of them.

“They’re a good class, a good class. They have proven leadership abilities,” Davis said, adding that the students also did well academically. One of the academic leaders, valedictorian Charles Garrod, was ready to give his speech. “I’ve been practicing all day long,” he said.

Asked if his speech was good, Garrod replied, “its short … I don’t really have anything to say that hasn’t been said before, so I’m keeping it short.” While he wasn’t at all nervous, salutatorian Tazia Stagg was feeling a little shaky as she reviewed her speech and sipped bottled water.

“I’m finally starting to calm down from getting my gown on,” she said.

Graduating seniors weren’t the only ones plagued with a bad case of nerves. Donnie Stephens, whose daughter Amanda was graduating, waited outside of the gymnasium with family members before the ceremony.  “I bet I’m more nervous than she is,” Stephens said of his feelings compared to his daughter’s. His reasoning was simple: “She’s my baby.”

Equally simple was the sentiment expressed in writing on the rear window of a Plymouth Horizon that might at one time have been white. Parked in the students’ lot, the car bore these apparent nicknames on the window, “Boss Hog and Boss Lips.”

Underneath the names it said, “Outta here.” – Staff writers Jennifer Brett, Graham Brink, Geoff Dougherty, Richard Verrier and Nancy Weil contributed to this report.

Zephyrhills Adds Boys and Girls Swimming, St. Petersburg Times, by Tony Castro, June 13, 1997

Zephyrhills High School will dive into a new sport this fall – boys and girls swimming. The first practice will be Aug. 11 at the open-air Hercules Aquatic Center in Zephyrhills.

The Bulldogs’ schedule to this point features 10 regular-season meets beginning with a Sept. 10 date at Gulf. The first home meet will be Sept. 17 against Land O’ Lakes.

With Zephyrhills entering the water, the Sunshine Athletic Conference can officially consider swimming a conference sport since Gulf, Land O’ Lakes, River Ridge and Springstead also have teams.

Zephyrhills graduate Shannon Mathews, 30, will be the school’s first swimming coach. She has taught swimming for three summers, and lettered three times in basketball and once in cross country.

“We’re still looking for boys,” said Mathews, a 1992 graduate of South Florida and mother of three boys. “But we’ve got another meeting (July 8 at Zephyrhills High’s Commons area) before we begin practice. I’d like to see us carry 30 kids (15 girls and 15 boys).”

As far as expectations, “The only place to go is up,” said Mathews, who will teach science. “It’s kind of cool to be in something brand new and the kids realize that.

“The local `Y’ has been developing some kids, now we’ll see if they’re ready for people like Gulf, Springstead and East Lake.”

Bulldogs First Up in Big Games, St. Petersburg Times, by John C. Cotey, September 12, 1997

This week, Pasco football coach Ricky Thomas was spending his early evening strolling through the aisles at Scotty’s.

Among the nuts and bolts and 4x4s, a woman approached Thomas. She had a question: How are you going to stop Ryan Pickett?

She then proceeded – Ryan Pickett this and Ryan Pickett that, Bulldogs this and Bulldogs that. Thomas just smiled. A fan, approaching a coach, in between shopping, concerned about a prep football game.

This just in: Pasco at Zephyrhills is still a big game.

“I think so,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of people in the community talking about it. It’s been picking up all week.”

Since last year’s realignment brought Hernando, Zephyrhills and Pasco back together in a district that used to be one of the best in the state, much has been made of the impending Leopards-Pirates tilt. Many inches have been devoted to the rivalry’s past, and the rivalry’s future. Big games have been chronicled, big plays fawned over.

And off on the side has been Zephyrhills – the district stepchild.

Has the attention on Hernando’s presence taken some of the gleam off tonight’s game, reducing it to just a key game rather than a big game?

“I don’t think so,” Thomas said. “I don’t think so. That’s a good question. I just think we have two games that will be the game. (This) is one of them.”

Thomas isn’t about to write off tonight’s game as anything less than it always is – a war. Sure, no one’s season comes to a crashing halt. And with Hernando on the schedule, you can argue that it won’t even be the most attended game or the most important one.

It all depends on how you look at it, and Thomas looks at it like any other coach.

“This game could be for the district championship,” he said. “Depending on how things pan out, the Hernando game could mean nothing. Last year we lost to Jesuit (in the fifth game) and it ended up costing us the district championship. This could be the same way.

“We’re not taking this game lightly. We’re taking it as the district championship.”

As is Zephyrhills. Say what you will about Hernando, but the Leopards are not ranked – Pasco (No. 6) and Zephyrhills (No. 9) are.

Which game is bigger again?

“We can’t think about Hernando or anybody else,” Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher said. “Right now, it doesn’t get any bigger than (tonight’s) game.”

It’s early, but Thomas said this game is bigger than those in recent memory, which is hard to imagine because the past two games were great ones – in 1995 Shawn Daughtery threw a touchdown pass with 2:40 left to lift the Bulldogs to a win, and last year Jeremy Gude kicked the Pirates to a win with 9 seconds left.

But an emotional defeat this early in the season with another hugely emotional game on the horizon could prove disastrous.

“Personally, I have different feelings about this (year’s game),” Thomas said. “It’s that old-time feeling again. It feels great to have everyone back in the district.”

Let’s not forget – Zephyrhills had a rivalry with Hernando too. In 1993, the three teams all tied for the district lead. On a Monday, they played off in a Kansas tiebreaker and Zephyrhills beat Hernando 7-0, and Hernando beat Pasco 8-6.

It has been that kind of district when the three share it.

And no one pair of schools has the patent on big games. Sure, Pasco-Hernando will be huge. Hernando-Zephyrhills will be large.

Tonight? It’s time to set off the first of three explosions.

“We think it’s going to be a gun fight,” said Thomas, “and when you go to a gun fight, you don’t bring a pocketknife.”

Marching Past Stereotypes, St. Petersburg Times, by Adrianne Sell, September 10, 1997

The Citadel has nothing on us. While that southern military academy struggles publicly to bring women into the fold, a quiet revolution has taken place in the southeastern corner of Pasco County. In Zephyrhills High School’s Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, young women are not only involved; one is in charge.

For the first time in the program’s 13-year history, a young woman, 17-year-old high school senior Natalie Yonkof, has been appointed battalion commander. According to the Junior ROTC adviser, 1st Sgt. Ronald Reece, she is quite a remarkable young woman.

“When I first came here three years ago to teach the program, the first student to greet me was Natalie. This skinny little 9th-grader walks right up to this man dressed in formal uniform and says, `Hi, I’m Natalie Yonkoff.’ The rest is history,” Reece said. “She’s worked really hard right from the beginning … and finished in the top 10 per cent of 1,800 kids in the state. She scored above all her peers by outworking them. Natalie’s been on the honor roll all four quarters and is involved in every community activity you can imagine.

“She has a lot of talent and enthusiasm and is a natural leader. Nobody deserved this honor more.”

As battalion commander, Natalie must take responsibility for the almost 225 students in one of ZHS’ largest ROTC programs ever. Not bad for a girl who in middle school had to enter the drop-out prevention program.

“She has come a long way in the program, and I believe the Junior ROTC really helped her find the discipline and purpose she needed in her life,” said Col. Mike Pilvinsky, program instructor. “In fact, I think the main reason students enter this program is to give more structure to their lives. Some go on to military life, many do not. But they all come away with a sense of unity, respect and belonging. We have about 81 young women and 140-plus young men this year, and they all respect Natalie tremendously.”

Despite all the fuss, Natalie is not one to bask in the spotlight. She’s modest and genuine, with manners that would make any mother proud.

“I never really understood what being in ROTC would mean to me,” Natalie said.”I just saw it on a course list and decided to take it. This is my fourth year in the program, and I really enjoy it. It’s not only fun; I’ve learned a lot of discipline and respect for other people. I really don’t want a lot of attention; I just want to be treated like any other battalion commander.”

Being treated like any other battalion commander means that all 220-plus students in the Zephyrhills High Junior ROTC, regardless of sex, age or rank, take orders from Natalie. They defer to her judgment in most matters relating to the program, and she is responsible for how well they accomplish their training.

“I feel very proud,” Natalie said. “But having all that responsibility is very stressful, especially being the first female.”

Ron Reece is an 18-year-old senior doing his first stint as battalion executive officer in the Junior ROTC program. He has been in the program three years and is the son of 1st Sgt. Reece. Enthusiasm for the program is written all over his face.

“You feel a great deal of pride,” he said. “You learn respect, manners and discipline. Plus, it’s exciting to be in parades and notice how people look up to you. Besides, the uniforms and medals are excellent.”

Heather Avingee has been in the ROTC program for three years and is delighted that a young woman has been chosen to head the corps.

“I am so happy for Natalie,” she said. “She really deserves it. I’ve been hoping we’d get a female for all three years that I’ve been in the program. It’s wonderful, and I’ll do anything I can to help her. There’s no question she is the right choice.”

Sgt. Maj. Chris Poe, 16, put it best: “It’s fair because Natalie worked hard and she deserves it. Besides, ROTC is about taking orders from your superiors with respect and dignity … male or female.”

Natalie Yonkof intends to go into the Air Force after high school. She says her record in Junior ROTC will help her advance in rank and pay scale.

“I’m not sure right now what area I’ll specialize in, but I certainly want to learn to fly while I’m there.”

Top of the Class, St. Petersburg Times, October 8, 1997

Florida’s newest bloodmobiles made their debut at the school last week. The school holds the record for most high school blood donations in a three-county area. The new buses are painted with themes. One is a space motif with the slogan,

“Blood donors are out of this world.” The other depicts a 40-foot American flag and Mount Rushmore with the words, “Blood donors are heroes too.”

Heroes And Happenings, St. Petersburg Times, by Tony Castro, John C. Cotey, Steve Lee and Roger Mills, October 19, 1997

Zephyrhills sophomore kicker Brett Cimorelli drove five kickoffs into the Gulf end zone to force five touchbacks – giving him 15 in three weeks. He also hit 5 of 5 extra points to break a school record of 20 in a row set by Tommy Hutchinson in 1993. In addition, Cimorelli punted twice for 90 yards.

A sign of the tines at Zephyrhills could be noticed by fans on both sides of the stadium in Zephyrhills. For what is believed to be the first in Pasco County history, a high school referee – Gary Lombardy – was equipped with a microphone to make his calls clear.

Not only does Pasco have blinding speed but it likes to score quickly, too. In its first possession, the Pirates scored on their second play as Norman Graham darted through tacklers for a 37-yard touchdown. On their next drive, after Ridgewood scored on Mike Halkitis’ 25-yard touchdown run, the Pirates answered in little over one minute as Graham roared for a 63-yard touchdown on fourth down.

Realizing that they were in for a long night, the Ridgewood Rams tried to boost momentum by trying an onside kick in the early stages of the first quarter. But Pasco recovered and scored five plays later.

The Pasco-Ridgewood score could have been a lot worse than 49-19. A 38-yard run up the middle by Pasco fullback Ron Croson to the Rams’ 1-yard line was negated by a 15-yard clipping penalty at the line of scrimmage. Then late in the fourth quarter, freshman B.J. Davis returned a kickoff 39 yards to the Rams’ 10 yard line, but that too was negated by a clip.

The Rams should give thanks that the Pasco passing game was not sharp. In fact, quarterback Frank Craig was decidedly off his game. Not only did he complete just 3 of 11 passes but on first-and-goal at the Ridgewood 7, he scrambled out of the pocket and threw an interception in the end zone. He was picked off twice.

River Ridge coach Scott Schmitz praised his team for making the big play in Friday’s 18-3 win over Lecanto, and many were made by the coach’s son and a core of receivers hungry for the ball.

Of Andy Schmitz’s six completions, all came on plays in which River Ridge needed 7 or more yards for a first down. Four of the plays were on third down, including a third-and-19 completion for a 39-yard score to Rhett Schmedemann. Schmitz’ other TD pass, an 8-yarder to Jason Stoss, was on third-and-7.

Hudson continues to put up decent numbers, but is shooting itself in the foot with turnovers. Brad Felten threw for 121 yards and John Cordell rushed for 140 as the Cobras racked up 230 yards against Land O’ Lakes, but they were doomed by Felten’s three interceptions and a Cordell fumble in a 35-16 loss.

After missing three games with shoulder injuries, Land O’ Lakes flanker Alex Perez has two touchdowns in the past two games on the same play, an inside trap. Perez scored on a 47-yard run on that play in a 29-13 win over Gulf and had a 76-yard score Friday. The stat book

Nathan Rager entered Friday as the leading rusher in Pasco County with 739 yards, but for the second time this year, running mate Cordell posted better numbers. Against Land O’ Lakes, Rager ran for 51 yards, 89 less than Cordell.

Graham led Pasco with 225 rushing yards on 17 carries, but the Pirates got solid running from others. Croson finished with 117 yards on seven carries and Davis had 30 yards on three carries.

Zephyrhills senior receiver Teon Black had four catches for 52 yards, two for touchdowns. He also returned an 87-yard punt for a score. Quarterback Jaimie Sullivan was 6-for-12 for 87 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

River Ridge linebacker Tom Petrini had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, lineman Tom Drennen recovered a fumble and had a sack. And Frank Temple ran 18 times for 64 yards and a TD and caught two passes for 46 yards. The quote book

“Everything up to now has been preseason. We start thinking about Hernando right now.” – Sullivan on next week’s huge Class 4A, District 8 game.

“I felt the best I have all week in warm-ups when I started sweating a lot. They were giving us the underneath stuff and we took advantage.” – Black, who missed three days of practice with the flu.

“This isn’t my record. This belongs to holder Boo (McKay), snapper Alan Paladino and the rest of the offense line,” Cimorelli on his PAT record.

“I’m not crying in my Wheaties here but we’re decimated by injuries on a football team that’s struggling to rebuild. I’ve lost five seniors starters to injury. We have had to bring up JV players and I know they do too, but their JV players are players, ours are still developing.” – Ridgewood coach Mike Looney.

“We did not work that much on our passing game this week as we concentrated a little bit on the run because I really wanted to sharpen Norman’s skills. If we’re going to be successful later on, we’re going to have to run the ball very well.” – Pasco coach Ricky Thomas on Graham.

“We could play a little bit better defensively but right now our offense is going about as good as it could go.” – Graham.

“It was a little bit of morale (boost), but on the other hand it was disappointing because it was our homecoming. They wanted to win.” – Hudson coach Ernie Pollock on a second-quarter drive for a field goal in his team’s loss to Land O’ Lakes.

“I wasn’t worried about a letdown. I was worried that we took a 14-0 lead and let them back in the ball game.” – Land O’ Lakes coach John Benedetto on the possibility that his team might have overlooked Hudson while looking forward to this week’s game against Tarpon Springs.

Zephyrhills Pickett, St. Petersburg Times, by John C. Cotey, December 11, 1997

Ryan Pickett, rated by some recruiting services as the best high school defensive lineman in the country, has spurned Florida State and Florida with a surprising college choice:

Ohio State.

Pickett, an agile 6-foot-3, 293-pound lineman for the Zephyrhills High Bulldogs, said Monday he has verbally committed to play for the 10th-ranked Buckeyes next season.

“A lot of people were surprised. I know my mom was,” Pickett said. “But I liked the people in the city, I liked the coaches and I liked the players.”

“I felt I fit in perfect up there.”

Pickett had decided not to visit college suitors during the Bulldog season, except for one trip to Alabama, reasoning that he needed to concentrate on helping his team make the playoffs. Once the season ended with a 24-0 loss to Gainesville Eastside on Nov. 28, Pickett scheduled the trip to Columbus for last weekend.

It turned out to be the only trip he needed. Unmoved by 23-degree weather and snow – and a weekday visit last week from Florida Gators coach Steve Spurrier – Pickett told the Ohio State coaches he would be back in the fall before he even got back on the plane to return to Zephyrhills.

Pickett spent his trip visiting with players at practice Saturday and had a chance to size up his competition for next year.

Coach John Cooper told him that if he reports in shape next fall and performs well enough, he would play right away.

“Cooper said that it’s up to me,” Pickett said. “They are losing two senior starters. I believe I can play early.”

The Buckeyes, who play in the Big Ten and will meet Florida State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, plan to use Pickett as a left defensive tackle. That is the primary position he was recruited for by most schools, although he also received much attention for his play on the offensive line and at linebacker.

Ohio State has sent a number of players the past few years to the NFL, including Joey Galloway, Robert Smith, Orlando Pace, Shawn Springs and Eddie George. It has contended for the national championship the past three seasons, each time falling short.

Pickett had four sacks and 142 tackles this season, mostly as a middle linebacker. He was moved to the position after the Bulldogs suffered a series of injuries and defections. Even at his size, he was remarkably effective and dominating, as evidenced by his 16 solo tackles in the playoffs against then-unbeaten Crystal River.

“We played Ryan at linebacker this year out of necessity,” Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher said. “Last year, if we lined him up on the left, teams ran to the right. With him in the middle, they couldn’t choose which side they wanted to run to.

“He is so quick off the ball for someone his size. That’s what any (college coach) will tell you. They liked his quick feet and how he reacted to the ball.

Zephyrhills Pins Pasco 47-29, St. Petersburg Times by Tony Castro, December 11, 1997

After losing five state qualifiers from last year’s district champion wrestling team, Zephyrhills coach Kevin Epifanio was searching for new faces in new places in the Sunshine Athletic Conference dual meet season-opener Wednesday night against rival Pasco.

The new-look Bulldogs appeared tenacious and opened with six straight pins, seven in the first eight bouts and eight overall to defeat coach Nelson Page’s Pirates, 47-29.

After a double-forfeit at 103 pounds, Zephyrhills (1-0) set the tone of the match early as freshman Nathan Crouch (a silver medalist at the Wakulla tournament) pinned Pirate freshman Jonathon Hancock in 4 minutes, 59 seconds after holding a 2-1 lead. Bulldog sophomores Peter Albanese (119 pounds) David Summers (125) and C.J. Pekarek (130) followed with pins in 2:19, 2:20, and 1:25, respectively to build a 24-0 lead.

Zephyrhills senior Daniel Fleshood (135) pinned Kyle Jory in 1:25 and Bulldog sophomore Chris Schroeder stopped Rigoberto Guerrero in 2:38 to expand the hosts’ cushion to 36-0.

“I was really pumped, especially at being at home against Pasco,” said Fleshood. “I thought it would be a tough match but I was certainly ready top go.”

Pasco freshman Alvaro Moreno slowed the Bulldog momentum, pinning freshman Daniel Conely in 71 seconds.

Bulldog senior Steven Wright (152) pinned Pirate senior Ray Abla in 48 seconds to extend the cushion, though each team was deducted a point for their wrestlers’ unsportsmanlike conduct following that match.

Page’s troops (0-2, 0-1 SAC) rallied behind three straight pins by seniors Nathaniel Newsome (171), Ulysses Larry (189) and Stephen Lasch (215) before Bulldog junior heavyweight Chester Rathburn concluded the one-hour match with a 22-second pin of Jason Owens.

“We knew we had to set the tone early,” Epifanio said. “And our 112- and our 119-pounders were ready to go. We really didn’t know what to expect from them, and I certainly didn’t expect to win that bad. I expected a closer match.”

“I expected us to do well,” Page admitted. “But if I was a betting man, I would have called those first two matches upsets. But hey, they’re a good team and we never gave up.”

Chasing the Title, St. Petersburg Times by Carlos Frias, October 24, 1997

They’ve been unstoppable all year. Opponents have struggled just to score against the Hernando and Zephyrhills high school football teams. They’re chasing the same goal. And now they stand in each other’s way.

The No. 2 and No. 7 teams in the state in Class 4A, Zephyrhills and Hernando have been nearly identical in their methods of dismantling teams. And their records reflect it: undefeated.

The winner of tonight’s 7:30 contest at Tom Fisher Stadium in Brooksville will likely go on to earn a district championship.

The hype is well under way. About 6,000 fans are expected, and all reserved seats are sold out. Latecomers will end up standing. Busloads of Zephyrhills fans are preparing to make the trek to what has been a hostile environment for opponents.

“It’s a huge game. They’re No. 3, we’re No. 4 (in the Times’ Tampa Bay Top 10), and we’re just going to let our actions speak for us,” said Hernando wide receiver Jamar Williams. “I think we can be state champion.”

The top two teams in each district earn state playoff spots, and Zephyrhills and Hernando are tied for first place in District 8 of Class 4A.

If Hernando upsets Pasco County’s juggernaut, the Leopards will match their best record since they started 7-0 in 1991. But more important, it puts them in almost certain position to earn a playoff spot.

The Leopards would still have to defeat Pasco High on Nov. 7 to clinch the district title. Is it feasible? Consider that Zephyrhills defeated Pasco 33-0 earlier this year.

If Zephyrhills rolls past the upstart Leopards, things could be much different for Hernando. No other team stands in Zephyrhills’ road to a district title – even an improbable loss to Central would not hurt the Bulldogs – but Hernando would have to beat Pasco, its final district opponent, to finish second.

What makes the result of tonight’s game impossible to predict are the similarities between the two teams?

When it comes to high-powered offenses, the teams have power aplenty. Zephyrhills has averaged 38.1 points during seven games, while Hernando has managed 38.6 over its six opponents. Bulldogs quarterback Jaimie Sullivan has thrown for 833 yards while Hernando’s Brandon Browning has thrown for 845. Each has nine touchdowns on the year.

“They’re both pretty smart quarterbacks with good technique,” said Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher. “They’re definitely competitors, and they know the game.”

Two receivers have carried the load for the Bulldogs, while the Leopards have spread passes around to four receivers, all of whom have caught at least one touchdown.

On the ground, Zephyrhills tailback Terry Allen leads the North Suncoast area (Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties) with 854 yards and 13 scores. He has the ability to bull rush up the middle and play the part of slashing runner.

Hernando has split those responsibilities. John Capel, one of the fastest football players in the nation, has provided the slashing moves while fellow running back Johnnie Thompson has provided the power. They have combined for 1,159 yards and 17 touchdowns.

The speedy wide receivers and running backs should play into the contest, but likely not enough to turn it into a shootout.

Both defenses have been stifling opposing offenses and may be the key to tonight’s game.

Zephyrhills has been a stingy host and visitor, allowing opponents only 5.6 points a game, and has not allowed a point in the fourth quarter. Similarly, Hernando has allowed an average of 10.5.

“We’ve been playing some very physical football,” Browning said. “Zephyrhills, coming in here, is going to face a very physical team in Hernando High School.”

With so much to gain – and lose – for each team, they’ll have to go beyond similarities and find the other’s weaknesses.

Zephyrhills’ running game consists almost exclusively of Allen. But fatigue and overuse could become a problem for the back against Hernando’s defensive line, the best Zephyrhills has faced this season.

On offense, the Leopards may run into some problems, literally, when it comes to rushing up Zephyrhills’ middle. The players that rotate at guard – Keylow King, Jeremy Ingram and Kevin Tracy – average a lean 185 pounds. That could mean trouble against a defensive line anchored by 6-4, 303-pound Ryan Pickett, a top major-college prospect.

“We probably have one of the smallest lines in the state of Florida,” Browning said. “But you can’t put a measure on the size of a man’s heart.”

Look for Browning to run his speedy running backs to the outside if they are to be successful.

The make-or-break edge in this game, though, may come in the least-credited part of football: special teams.

Zephyrhills’ Demetrius McKay has burst through the line to block five punts. Offensively, kicker Brett Cimorelli leads the North Suncoast with five field goals and 25 extra points for 40 total points.

“They have one advantage: They’ve blocked a lot of kicks and punts,” Browning said. “We’re going to have to be error-free on special teams.”

By the same token, the Leopards’ kickoff and punt returners, receivers Eric Kincade and Capel, have been a threat all year to break huge returns. Kincade has already run a punt back for a touchdown.

The many similarities make predicting the winner nearly impossible. Still, the Leopards like their chances.

“It doesn’t matter (what Zephyrhills has),” Thompson said. “We just need to get out there and get the job done. This is the big game.” – Times staff writers John C. Cotey and Rick Gershman contributed to this report.

Top of the Class, St. Petersburg Times, November 12, 1997

Language arts teacher Gail Reynolds has been appointed as state judge for the 1997 Recognize Excellence in Literary Magazines program, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English. Mrs. Reynolds will participate in honoring students, teachers and schools that produce exemplary literary magazines. Jarred Fiscarelli was commended by science teacher Mrs. Gaffney for maintaining four saltwater tanks in her oceanography classroom.

Zephyrhills Man is Sworn in as Attorney, Pasco News, February 9, 2006

Jason Jervis Wise was sworn in as an attorney by the Honorable Lynn Tepper on Thursday, February 2, 2006. The swearing in ceremony was held at the Pasco County Court House in Dade City with family and friends attending! An administration of oath takes place after a candidate has graduated from Law School has passed the BAR exam and met the criteria of the Florida BAR Association for admittance. Each new attorney affirms the oath of ethics and practice for the BAR association under the administration of a Judge.

Jason was a graduate of Zephyrhills High School where he was an honor student and played on the football team. He attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida on scholarship and received two bachelor degrees simultaneously from the University of Florida in 2001. He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics and also a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business Administration at UF. An avid Gator, Jason was active in ATO where he served as an officer while attending UF.

Chester W. Taylor, Jr. Elementary Dedication/Open House, Pasco News, October 2, 1997

By Mary Harman

Chester W. Taylor Jr. Elementary Principal Fran McCrimmon opened the program for the dedication of Zephyrhills newest elementary school on September 23 by welcoming those present, followed by the Posting of Colors by American Legion Post 118. “The National Anthem,” was sung by Cynthia Jolley with the Pledge of Allegiance by the intermediate students.

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