TRINITY — Larry Couch may be one of the best linebackers whose name is unfamiliar to those outside the Mitchell football program.
That’s about to change.
Couch, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, had a Pasco County-high 136 tackles, including 76 solo, for the 6-4 Mustangs in 2013, but many shrug their shoulders when his name is mentioned with the county’s top linebackers. Granted, Couch has no college offers and hasn’t been to the playoffs, but the same can be said about other linebackers.
“Larry doesn’t need to judge his play by his tackles, even if he came close to the school record,” Mitchell coach Andy Schmitz said. “I think it’s because he didn’t make the big-splash plays. His tackles were always 4 or 5 yards downfield. ... I really can’t explain why more people don’t know him, but he had a great offseason, worked hard in the weight room, became more of a leader, and all he has to do is be more aggressive to the ball this season.”
Perhaps Schmitz is onto something. Of all of Couch’s tackles, just one was for a loss, though he did have three fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Couch was also learning how to lead last season, and now that he’s the defensive leader, the stats may not be as eye-popping but the big plays might be.
“Our defense is a little different this year and (defensive coordinator Justin) Fenton does a good job with us,” Couch said. “It’s more of a team defense so I may not see as many tackles this year, but we should have a stronger performance from the whole squad.
“I just need to have a blowout year as a senior. That’s every senior’s plan.”
Schmitz says this summer was a big leap forward for Couch, which was vital, especially if the Mustangs are going to leap forward in Class 6A-District 6.
“This year, he is more concerned with his teammates — not that he was selfish, but now he is all about what he can do for his team to win,” Schmitz said. “He’s very talented and probably as good a linebacker as we faced last season. He doesn’t miss tackles, and if people don’t know him, they should know about him real soon.”
The Mustangs return quarterback Alec Lambert, who split time last year and threw for 349 yards and a touchdown. Ryan Marsh (207 yards, four TDs) is the team’s top returning back and should make a decent duo with fellow senior Nicholas Boler. Keep an eye on offensive lineman Omar Minier to lead a big line for those backs.
Linebacker Larry Couch returns, as does Marsh and Lambert in the secondary, but the Mustangs must revamp their defensive line. However, anything on defense is a step up, especially stat-wise, as Mitchell had just 16 sacks and three interceptions in 2013. The defense did have 12 fumble recoveries, three by Couch and four by the graduated Dan Mason.
The biggest goal, and probably the mantra, for the Mustangs and first-year coach Andy Schmitz is to be better than 5-5. The team knows Class 6A-6 is tough with the likes of Spring Hill Springstead, Land O’ Lakes and Sunlake on the schedule. Going 1-3 just won’t be acceptable if the Mustangs want to make the playoffs for the fourth time — and first since 2004. That will probably require at least one road district win and two upsets at home.
• About the Mustangs
Stadium: Mitchell Stadium, 2323 Little Road, New Port Richey
Class-District: 6A-6 (with Fivay, Land O’ Lakes, Spring Hill Springstead and Sunlake)
Coach: Andy Schmitz (first season)
Last season: 6-4
Aug. 29: Anclote
Sept. 5: at Ridgewood
Sept. 12: Zephyrhills
Sept. 19: at Land O’ Lakes
Sept. 26: River Ridge
Oct. 3: Sunlake
Oct. 10: at Lecanto
Oct. 17: at Fivay
Oct. 24: Spring Hill Springstead
Nov. 7: at Gulf