PREP PULSE

Latsko not worried about high expectations at GHS


Mark Latsko takes over a very successful Gainesville High football program that played in its first state final in 33 years in 2012.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 10:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 10:10 p.m.

A graduate of Gainesville High, the transition to head football coach has been a smooth one so far for Mark Latsko.

He knows about those expectations, taking over a program that has been 47-9 in the last four years and is coming off its first state championship game in 33 years. He wants to continue the trend and doesn't feel any added pressure going into his first season.

“My expectations are so high,” he said. “I'm trying to win every time we get on the field, and I believe we will win every time we are on the field. If we lose a game, it may change, but I believe in this team.”

Latsko, 32, a cousin of former UF fullback Billy Latsko, replaced James Thomson, who left to coach at DeLand. Latsko doesn't truly face his first test until Aug. 30 in Lake City against fellow Class 6A power Columbia.

But like the coach before him, the Hurricanes' newest leader will have a good grasp of his team's makeup after their first three games.

“Our schedule is certainly a little frontloaded,” Latsko said. “Technically, we only have four home games, even though we are playing Eastside at Citizens (Field). Counting our spring and fall classics, nine of the 12 teams we are facing won a playoff game a year ago.

“Gainesville and Lake City is a great rivalry being right up there off I-75. Madison (County) has been a great rivalry the last several years, then we close with Tallahassee Lincoln and Wakulla. It is definitely going to be a good test early on, but we are excited about it.”

A week ago, Gainesville won the 7-on-7 tournament in Trenton, beating District 5-6A rival Ocala Vanguard. The 'Canes played Saturday in the annual 7-on-7 tournament at Jonesville soccer fields.

Having success in 7-on-7 tournaments, which have become a staple of summer workouts for football teams across the state, is encouraging. But Latsko doesn't put too much emphasis on it.

“I think some kids get too caught up with 7-on-7 success,” he said. “We like to do it for fun with the kids. It's a chance to compete against other teams and other kids for a couple of weeks. We learn a lot on one-on-one coverage, and work on the pass game a little bit. Offensively, we are generally pretty vanilla. We try to stay consistent.”

Besides 7-on-7s, there is plenty of weight workouts in the summer. The 'Canes have plenty of holes to fill offensively and defensively, but plenty of young talent stepping in. The biggest question marks are at quarterback and offensive line.

“We have been splitting time between Jack Cornell and Caelen Christian,” Latsko said. “We are waiting for one of them to step up. We have two quarterbacks. Trying to see if one of those guys can show a little separation over the other. It will probably take several weeks in August.”

Gainesville also has two of the most recruited players offensively in running back Tony James and wide receiver Kenric Young, both speedsters. James has offers from UF, FSU, Miami, but has listed Ohio State, Oregon, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Nebraska as his current favorites. Young has 27 offers that include Nebraska, Minnesota, N.C. State, Purdue, UCF, USF and Georgia Tech.

“We have a core group of senior leaders that have been battled-tested, they know what the expectations are,” Latsko said. “Juan Jenkins (safety, middle linebacker, running back) has been incredible. I know Tony and Kenric get most of the attention from the recruiters, but Juan is a leader and would be the best player on a lot of teams. He and Herman Bellamy (defensive tackle/fullback), those two have taken on the leadership.”

THE OPENING: Nike's The Opening, which features 162 elite football prospects from around the country, has 27 prospects from Florida with two from the area — Columbia defensive back Trey Marshall and Dixie County defensive back Duke Dawson. Dawson, at 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, has already committed to UF and is rated by ESPN as the nation's No. 240 overall prospect. Marshall, at 5-11, 195, has 12 offers including FSU, UF, Miami, Georgia, Louisville and Ole Miss and is rated the No. 158 overall prospect by 247 Sports. The event starts today at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., and runs through Wednesday. We will release our Super 11 players in late August, prior to the season.

TOP 5 RB: FloridaVarsity.com, part of Rivals.com, recently rated the top five running backs in the state for the upcoming season. Among the five is Gainesville senior Tony James, who was hampered by a hamstring injury during track season in the spring, but ran for 1,067 yards and eight TDs last season. Also on the list were Miami Central's duo of Dalvin Cook (UF commit) and Joseph Yearby (Miami), Plantation American Heritage's Sony Michel (Georgia) and North Florida Christian's Jonathan Vickers.

CLARIFICATION, PLEASE: Despite what the FHSAA or MaxPreps websites indicate, St. Francis will indeed be independent in football for 2013 and 2014 seasons. Both sites have the Wolves playing in District 2-3A, which along with Oak Hall, both pulled out of following the initial assigning of districts.

Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or larry.savage@gvillesun.com. And follow him at Twitter.com/sunpreps

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