Cocoa Beach Minutemen Bomb Leesburg Jackets 34-19, Page 1, Sunday, November 12, 1967, Leesburg High School, 1401 Yellow Jacket Way, Leesburg, Florida 34748, Gerald Lacey, Staff Writer, Carver Heights Quarterback Club
Cocoa Beach Minutemen Bomb Leesburg Jackets 34-19, Page 1, Sunday, November 12, 1967, Leesburg High School, 1401 Yellow Jacket Way, Leesburg, Florida 34748, Gerald Lacey, Staff Writer, Carver Heights Quarterback Club
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Cocoa Beach Minutemen Bomb Leesburg Jackets 34-19, Page 1, Sunday, November 12, 1967, Leesburg High School, 1401 Yellow Jacket Way, Leesburg, Florida 34748, Gerald Lacey, Staff Writer, Carver Heights Quarterback Club
Cocoa Beach Minutemen Bomb Leesburg Jackets 34-19, Page 1, Sunday, November 12, 1967, Leesburg High School, 1401 Yellow Jacket Way, Leesburg, Florida 34748, Gerald Lacey, Staff Writer, Carver Heights Quarterback Club
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Leesburg Yellow Jackets vs. Mount Dora Hurricanes, High School Football Game

Leesburg Undergoes Powerful Changes
LAKE SPORTS - High School Football - Season Previews
The Yellow Jackets Have Found A Way To Bring Their Newfound Strength To The Field.
August 27, 2003|By Kevin Callanan, Sentinel Correspondent
Orlando Sentinel
Updated: Thursday, May 7, 2015, 12:38 p.m.

LEESBURG -- When Charles Nassar took over the Leesburg High football program last season, he
knew that both he and his youthful squad had some dues to pay.

"We were so young, so inexperienced last year, and because we didn't have the horses, a lot of these
guys got thrown into the fire, and they took their lumps." Nassar said.

Fast-forward, one year later. Battle-tested after a 2-8 campaign in 2002, the Yellow Jackets
unanimously embraced Nassar's off-season weightlifting program.

Conditioning, he claims, was their main nemesis last season. He's counting on this year's squad to be
bigger, stronger and faster, with more staying power.

"I don't know how good we're going to be, but I know we're going to be a lot better. All our players have
been willing to do what it takes. That makes you feel good," Nassar said.

He proudly points to starting linebacker and senior co-captain Joe Perry (5-10/195) as a prime example
of the overall physical transformation his team has undergone.

"If you look at him from last year, you'd think he'd lost 20 pounds, but he weighs the same. It's just
redistributed,'' Nassar said. "Joe's worked hard in the weight room and now he's streamlined. He's
leaner, more muscular, and he's hitting harder."

The coach says his squad has a new edge and attitude. "We're a strong football team right now. We're
inflicting real punishment on one another in practice, but we've got to find a way to bring that newfound
strength, conditioning and hitting ability to the field at game time when it matters."

Leesburg's new mean streak is personified, according to Nassar, by junior quarterback Brett Pitchford,
who brings a linebacker's mentality to the pocket.

"Brett's tough. He's 5-foot-9, 180 pounds and put together like a brick wall. He's a leader in the weight
room. He begs me to play defense, and I won't let him," Nassar said.

Running the Yellow Jackets' option attack as a sophomore last season, Pitchford ran for 794 yards on
133 carries and six touchdowns. He completed 37 of 75 passes for 661 yards and four scoring passes.

Nassar is impressed by his quarterback's performance and potential.

"I've been around the option awhile, and at this stage of development, he's the best option quarterback
I've seen," Nassar said.

Nassar said Pitchford was "a one-man show" last season out of necessity, but that no longer will be
the case.

"To run the option effectively, you've got to have a fullback to keep the defense honest. You've got to
make people respect that position, and last year we didn't have that," he said.

Filling that pivotal fullback role this year will be junior Shon Gunn (5-8/175). "Shon is a strong, physical,
low-to-the-ground type and a great inside runner," Nassar said.

Opening those holes up the middle will be the mission of senior center Evan Hayden (6-2/245), who
gets high marks from his coach for his individualism.

Leesburg's offense will gain most of its yardage by ground, but should Pitchford choose to air it out,
he'll have some options.

His main target will be athletic sophomore receiver Tory Harrison, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound basketball
standout for the Yellow Jackets who'll also see time at running back on offense and cornerback on
defense.

Trent McKibben will catch his share of passes, as well as pulling double duty as the team's main
blocking back. "Trent's our unsung hero. He does the lion's share of the blocking, and his contribution
doesn't show up on the stat sheet," Nassar said.

Howard Russell (6-1/190) is expected to be an impact player on both sides of the ball, both at running
back and inside linebacker. Nassar singles him out for making an inspiring comeback.

"Howard was dismissed from the team last year for disciplinary reasons. Not only was he reinstated,
but as a captain. I give him a lot of credit for everything he's accomplished, both academically and
athletically. It's been an amazing turnaround," he said.

An edge for Leesburg in close games could be its senior kicker, Stephen Malinda, one of the best
soccer players in the area who's steady and consistent between the uprights.

Making an impressive debut last year as a freshman was Mike Lewis (6-1/190), who'll start at nose
guard. "Mike's been real impressive in the weight room. He's already squatting 400 pounds as a
sophomore," said Nassar.

Tyler Hill (6-2/175) will split his time between outside linebacker and free safety. He's a catcher on the
baseball team, and Nassar said he brings that superior field vision with him to the gridiron. "Tyler
makes all the secondary calls,'' Nassar said. "He's a very heady player with tremendous athleticism."

Nassar said it's his team's time to shine.

"We've got some seasoned leadership but mainly a good corps of sophomores and juniors,'' Nassar
said. "These guys are still young, and they're literally growing up with us, but we've got just as good a
chance as anybody.''

How things will play out in the newly formed Class 4A, District 6 is anyone's guess. Joining the Jackets
in district competition for the first time will be local foes South Lake and East Ridge, along with
Brooksville Central and Spring Hill Springstead. Given that none of the teams finished with a winning
mark last season, there's no clear front-runner going in.

"Right now, I'd say East Ridge is the favorite, but the rest of us are right on their heels, and the district is
still up for grabs. We're all in the same boat. We're going to have some great geographic rivalries.
We're playing everyone in the county," Nassar said.

"It's a level playing field, and we've got one goal -- to win the district and make the playoffs. If you don't
think that way, you should be doing something else."