At first glance, Dave Marino’s task this year seems monumental.
Palmetto High’s new head football coach is replacing Raymond Woodie, who is an iconic figure to many people around these parts.
Besides being a heralded alumnus, Woodie was a father figure to many of his players and did an incredible job of getting kids into college.
Woodie also won, first at Bayshore High and then with the Tigers, which didn’t hurt his image.
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We all know what happened to Howie DeCristofaro when he replaced Joe Kinnan at Manatee High. His time there turned into a four-year soap opera that ended in an ugly divorce.
It’s why the hiring of Marino makes so much sense and is a credit to Palmetto principal Willie Clark, who played for Notre Dame and knows what it takes to make a good football coach.
So, at 43 years old, Marino gets a job that is long overdue. He was at Lakewood Ranch when it sought a new football coach six years ago but was passed over.
“I recommended Dave and think he will be successful,” Woodie said. “He is very knowledgeable and intense and will do right by the kids. He preaches the same thing I did — that talent is overrated and character wins out. The players will be receptive to him, and he stresses academics first.”
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A high priority for Marino this spring is finding a quarterback. He has four candidates, but the ones he seriously covets are freshmen. Receiver Melvin Burston (a senior next season) will head into spring as the starting QB, but only because the other three guys are so young.
The leading candidate is Corey Crawford (5-foot-11, 160 pounds), the JV quarterback last year with a good arm and plenty of athleticism. He will be pushed by Cesar Villareal (5-11, 165), who is more of a run threat but missed nearly all of last season with a broken leg. Another possibility is transfer Jared Szabo.
Marino will also be offensive coordinator and plans to run more stuff with his QB under center and use more two-back formations.
“It’s an honor and a blessing to be at Palmetto, which is one of the last community high schools and very unique in that aspect,” Marino said. “Woodie embraced me when he brought me here (two years ago), and I am inheriting a great staff. We are going to keep academic standards high for our players.”
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Southeast High head coach Paul Maechtle feels frustrated when kids don’t get scholarship offers because they don’t pass what he calls “the eyeball test” — a short-cut evaluation measuring height, weight and 40-yard dash times without considering intangibles that win games.
Noles QB Dyron Speight, at 6 feet tall, might change that thinking, but he could also be another victim.
“If Speight was two inches taller, he would be in a whole new category,” Maecthle said. “Last year, Brion Carnes and Trey Burton got all the hype, but Speight has a better arm than both. You’ve got to see him play to appreciate him. Don’t just look at those other numbers.”