Inside Preps: Right-Sizing A Giant Killer
Wed. September 19, 2012 at 11:07 p.m. | By Solange Reyner
I'm impressed, Fort Meade. I'm impressed.
For the past five years, and probably longer, the Miners have been whooping teams in higher classifications with ease.
The wins are against Hardee and Mulberry in 5A and Bartow, Ridge Community and Haines City in 7A.
Mulberry beat Fort Meade this year, but not by much.
What's more impressive is that the Miners are doing it with very little.
Fort Meade, which competes in Class 3A in the Florida High School Athletic Association, is only dressing 25 players this season.
And head coach Jemalle Cornelius has had to call on an eighth-grader, Ladarius Clark, to play on the varsity squad because of a lack of depth.
"We're playing a lot of freshmen and a couple of eighth-graders and that hurts our JV program," Cornelius said.
"And that JV squad takes a lot of lumps because a lot of guys have to play up."
Another note: Most of the athletes on Fort Meade's team play both ways. Senior De'Vante Clark is the team's starting running back and linebacker.
And, get this. Clark, a 1,400-yard rusher and first-team All-County selection last year, was out for the past two games because of an injury.
So that means two positions had to be filled.
Ryan Fulse stepped in for Clark and performed well, though, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns against Lake Region on Sept. 7 and 121 yards and one touchdown against Haines City on Sept. 14.
And Fulse is a sophomore.
The lack of numbers could be a problem down the stretch, though.
It certainly was last year when Fort Meade ran into Berkeley Prep in the Class 3A regional finals.
The Miners were worn down after a season of playing both ways against teams that often didn't have to.
"They were pretty banged up," Cornelius said.
"We played a tough schedule and played bigger schools throughout the season and that does take a toll on your guys' bodies. And that's not an excuse but a reality."
Cornelius is not one to whine. He works with what he has and moves forward.
But there could be a shift in his favor next year.
Fort Meade Athletic Director Jonathan Spradlin said he will attempt to get Fort Meade into a lower classification, or the rural classification, so that Fort Meade can compete on a level playing field.
Currently, the Miners' four-team district consists of Cardinal Mooney, Frostproof and Lakeland Christian.
Outside of those schools, though, you have Tampa Catholic, Clearwater Central Catholic and American Heritage in 3A.
Those programs can legally accept any players because they don't have zones.
Fort Meade, which has about 350 students in its high schools, has a population of 5,696 according to the 2011 Census. Not much to pick from, right?
The biggest impetus is travel money.
Had Fort Meade been in the 1A rural classification this year, the closest district competitor would have been Wildwood.
That's about a two hour drive. So, worth it?
I think so in the long run.