Largo defensive end Isaiah Bellamy tackles South Fort Myers’ Jaivon Thomas in the backfield for a loss Aug. 18 during the Packers’ 10-0 preseason victory at Osceola High School. Bellamy, who has committed to play for UCF, played quarterback last season but will play tight end and defensive end this year.
LARGO – Last year did not go as planned for Marcus Paschal. After a pair of 6-4 seasons, the Largo High School head football coach thought his team was finally ready to make a playoff push. Instead, several hardships pushed the team’s limits and it took a step backward, finishing with its first losing season since 2004.
“It was a tough season on and off the field,” he said. “We had so many different things going on even outside the game.”
The Packers will again face hardships this season, including having only two home games as a result of an unfinished game field, but Paschal is confident continuity and talent will help them overcome.
“Last year was embarrassing regardless of the situation we were in, and that’s not Largo football,” said Paschal, who will be coaching his fourth year at the school.
Practice for the Packers proved difficult last year. Renovations to the locker room were still ongoing and Paschal wasn’t on campus for most of the year while he was teaching at an elementary school in St. Petersburg.
“We had a young team and with a young team you need to have that structure, and I wasn’t there to provide that for many circumstances,” Paschal said.
The end result was a 3-6 record. But Paschal is on campus full-time now, and he said the addition of former head coach Rick Rodriguez to the staff has helped provide the extra structure that was needed.
Rodriguez has helped coach the offensive line, which is where Paschal said the team’s turnaround will begin.
“In years past, the team has always been built around the skill players, which we still have some very dynamic skill players, but I think what’s different with this team is up front in the trenches,” he said. “On O-line and D-line, we have some tough ball players.”
Paschal said the offensive line is one of the biggest in school history and behind it the Packers will have four capable running backs, including senior Jaquan Hiers and sophomore Jayion McCluster, who is the cousin of former Largo and NFL star Dexter McCluster.
“With more confidence and the body that he has and the skill set that he has, I think he’s going to have a breakout year,” Paschal said of McCluster, who has already received offers from USF, Michigan, Iowa and Kentucky. “The one-two punch of Hiers and McCluster is going to help us tremendously this year.”
The offense will need the help, averaging just over nine points in the Packers’ six losses last season.
That’s one reason Paschal is making a change at quarterback.
Junior Kyle Wisniewski will be taking the reins behind center from Isaiah Bellamy, a UCF commit who will be able to show his athletic ability at tight end and defensive end.
“(Wisniewski) had a good offseason last spring and going into the summer just growing into a leader,” Paschal said. “So I look forward to seeing what he can do with the skill positions around him.”
His biggest weapon will be wide receiver Calvin Lockett, a highly touted recruit who has received numerous college offers, including Wisconsin, Oregon and Virginia Tech.
“(Lockett’s) one of the top receivers, if not the top receiver, in the Pinellas and Tampa Bay area,” Paschal said.
The defense carried the load last season and considering it only lost lineman Bobby Roundtree, who signed on with Illinois, Paschal said it can be even better.
“Those pieces that have been here the last couple of years, they’re getting older,” he said.
Junior Jaquaze Sorrells leads the way. The 6-foot-3-inch, 260-pound lineman was named by ESPN as one of the top 20 juniors in the country and has already committed to Florida.
Returning at linebacker will be senior Logan Doublin, who has been a starter since his freshman year and has received several college offers, including Marshall.
“I think we probably have some of the best defensive backs in the Tampa Bay area as well, led by senior Cameron Tisdale, who didn’t even play his junior year because he broke his collarbone,” Paschal said.
Because of delays sodding the field, the Packers will have only two home games, but if Largo’s 10-0 preseason victory over South Fort Myers on Aug. 18 was any indication, Paschal and the Packers might finally break through.
“We have a tough schedule and I set it that way because if you want to be the best, you want to play the best,” he said. “So I look forward to us just going in and competing and hopefully the ball can bounce our way this year a little more than it did last year.”
LHS football schedule
Aug. 25 – At St. Petersburg Sept. 1 – At East Lake Sept. 8 – At Palm Harbor University Sept. 15 – At Dixie Hollins* Sept. 22 – At Countryside Sept. 28 – At Boca Ciega* Oct. 13 – Osceola* Oct. 20 – Northeast* (Homecoming) Oct. 27 – At Clearwater* Nov. 3 – At Lakewood *District games