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Panthers looking to open up offense

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Thursday September 06, 2001

The 2001 St. Mary’s varsity football team will have to cope with the loss of one of the best players in school history, along with the retirement of its coach of 16 years. The Panthers also lost a star they never really had this summer. But with some big weapons on offense and an infusion of new talent on defense, the Panthers should be back in the hunt for the Bay Shore Athletic League title this season. 

“A lot has changed since last year,” Jay Lawson admits. Lawson is the new head coach at St. Mary’s after 15 years with the school. Lawson, who is also the new athletic director, knows there will be a period of adjustment for his players. 

“The hardest thing so far has been putting my own mark and personality on the program,” he says. “We’re changing things that the coaches and players are used to around here.” 

Lorenzo Alexander, the mammoth lineman who was a four-year starter and Parade All-America for the Panthers, is now tearing things up at Cal. Dan Shaughnessy, who had guided the program since 1985, is helping his son coach the football team at Mt. Tamalpais High. And sophomore DeMarcus Nelson, who committed to transfer to St. Mary’s this summer and was projected as the starting quarterback, is back at Vallejo High after deciding to stay close to home. 

But despite those losses, St. Mary’s has its biggest threat back on the field this year: tailback Trestin George. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior carried the offense on his back last year, running for 1,164 yards and 20 touchdowns. George, who is being courted by most of the Pac-10 Conference schools, is bigger and faster than last season, so expect even more impressive numbers this year. 

“Trestin worked very hard this summer, and he’s put on some good weight,” Lawson says. “He’s probably one of the most dedicated athletes on our team, and he’s really stepped up into a leadership role.” 

George will be joined in the backfield by fullback Phil Weatheroy, a huge back who can open up holes for George or carry the ball himself on occasion. 

The best news for George is that Lawson plans to open up the St. Mary’s offense. The passing game was nearly non-existent last year, but Lawson feels he has some playmakers to split wide and attack defensive secondaries.  

Senior Courtney Brown returns to his wideout spot, giving the Panthers a deep threat. Brown was the team’s leading receiver last season, but was mostly a decoy in the run-happy offense.  

Junior Ryan Coogler will be the other wide receiver, but a bigger factor will be tight end Chase Moore, back from taking a year off of football. Moore, a starter for the school’s basketball and baseball teams, should give the offense a huge boost with his combination of size, hands and running ability. In last week’s scrimmage at Acalanes, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior was a terror, scoring on several long receptions, including a short pass over the middle that he turned into a 50-yard rumble over four defenders before outrunning a safety to the end zone. 

“Chase is the most exciting player we’ve added this year,” Lawson says. “We’re going to make sure he’s involved in the offense. We’re going to get him the ball and let him use his athletic ability.” 

Getting the receivers the ball will be up to Steve Murphy, who was a starting safety last season. When Nelson decided not to attend St. Mary’s, coaches were left scrambling to find a starter to take snaps at summer practice. Murphy showed a nice arm and surprising poise, and has looked solid in fall scrimmages.  

Murphy is only 5-foot-10; expect to see a lot of rollout passes from the Panthers. That’s because the linemen that will protect the passer include 6-foot-4, 290-pound Leon Drummer and 6-foot-3, 270-pound Jerrell Booker. Both juniors, Drummer and Booker will look to replace Alexander’s dominance on offense. They lead a line that has 11 experienced players, unusual depth for a team with 25 players on the roster. 

One up-and-comer is center Rodney Acda. A junior, Acda was the school’s best center last year, but was ineligible to play on varsity because he wasn’t 15 years old yet. 

“We don’t have anyone who is as good as Lorenzo, but we feel like the line will be better this year,” Lawson says. “We think the line will be the key to success, and the biggest strength on the team.” 

Drummer will also lead the defensive line, with Nick Osborne and Julian Taylor the other starters. Drummer’s size makes him an obvious candidate to take the mantle from Alexander, but Lawson says he will have to match Alexander’s work ethic to reach the same level. 

“Leon has the potential because of his agility and quickness, but it will depend on whether he is willing to put in the work,” he says. “’Zo was a special kid. We just want Leon to work hard to be the best player he can be.” 

The only other returning starter on defense is inside linebacker Omarr Flood. With Murphy and George running the offense, both will play only spot duty in the secondary. Brown will start at free safety, with Jason Bolden-Anderson filling Murphy’s shoes at strong safety. The starting cornerbacks will be senior Rob Leray and junior Kenny Griffin. Both have good speed, but could struggle in one-on-one coverage. 

“The defense is a question-mark going into the season,” says Lawson, who ran the unit last year with Steve Moore. “But we have the players, and we’re capable of having a solid defense.” 

As always, depth is an issue for a school with a small enrollment. With just 25 varsity players, the Panthers can’t afford injuries to starters. 

“If someone gets hurt and guys like Steve or Trestin have to play both ways full-time, it could be a problem,” Lawson says. “But we deal with that every year.”