Latsko pushing for familiar vibe at GHS

Gainesville High School football coach Mark Latsko works with the team on Wednesday in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/ Staff photographer
Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.

Entering his first spring as a head football coach, Mark Latsko knew there would be only one unfamiliar face standing out among the dozens of coaches and players on Gainesville High's practice field.


New coaches

Gainesville: Mark Latsko
St. Francis: David LaMarre (after spring)
Bell: Joey Whittington
Newberry: Kepa Sarduy (interim)

By his own choice, Latsko became that stranger.

Instead of overhauling the Hurricanes' coaching staff with new blood, Latsko's first move after being hired from Hernando in January was to retain all of the assistants of former GHS coach James Thomson, who filled DeLand's coaching vacancy in the offseason.

“Everybody's back,” Latsko said. “What I told them is everybody is going to stay in the same positions in the spring as they were in fall. In the summer time, if I need to reevaluate and move some people up or down or let some people go I reserve that right. But as of right now, everybody is in the same positions.”

While Gainesville lost 22 seniors, including three Division I signees, off last season's Class 6A state runner-up squad, Latsko hopes the changes he's making to the team's offensive terminology and blocking schemes will be quicker to grasp by keeping the Hurricanes' coaching staff intact heading into next season.

A graduate from Gainesville High in 1999, Latsko said the Hurricanes' offense is undergoing minor changes in its philosophy, including the addition of more I-formation sets, which will be unveiled in next Friday's spring game at Dr. Phillips at 7 p.m.

On the other side of ball, defensive coordinator Willie Danzy, who holds the same position Latsko did last year at Hernando, will continue to mold a unit featuring standout safety Juan Jenkins (102 tackles, three interceptions) that limited opponents to 13.5 points per game in 2012.

“I don't want to call it stupid, but it would be kind of stupid for you to change the whole coaching staff when you've got something good going,” said Danzy, a 16-year coaching veteran at GHS.

“They way the whole coaching feels is all we have to do is plug in some players mainly in the trenches. If we get the offensive and defensive line right, we'll probably be right back in the state championship again.”

Latsko immediately noticed the healthy reputation of Gainesville's talent pool in his first week on campus by the steady stream of college coaches requesting in-school visits with his new players.

With coaches from Nebraska, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn visiting in the past week, Latsko said the Hurricanes already have five players with Division I scholarship offers after rising senior offensive tackle Byers Hickman picked up his first from Florida Atlantic following Wednesday's practice.

“I did all of the recruiting in the spring (at Hernando), so I've kind of dealt with that a little bit, but not at the scale here with eight, nine, 10 coaches sometimes coming in a single day,” Latsko said. “It's constant, but it's a good problem to have.”

Garnering the lion's share of the attention are proven playmakers like wide receiver Kenric Young, who caught 32 passes for 567 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, and speedster Tony James, a transfer last season from Buchholz who rushed for 1,067 yards and eight scores.

While transitioning to his third coach in three seasons hasn't always been easy, James said he is fortunate to have gone through the experience.

“It's not guaranteed just because you go to that college that your coach is always going to be there,” James said. “Everything that I might go through in college, I've already seen in high school.”

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