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CRYSTAL RIVER, FL – The 2021 season wasn’t quite what Crystal River (FL) head coach Cliff Lohrey had envisioned for his Pirates’ group.

From a competitive opener against the always tough Bushnell South Sumter to the three one score losses to Springstead, Citrus and Leesburg, it easily could’ve been a 5-5 or 6-4 campaign for the Pirates. After a solid spring the team is now in full summer mode, as Crystal River is aiming to bounce back behind an experienced group.


“We have put a very disappointing season behind us and learned things we can do to increase our opportunities to be successful going forward,” Lohrey said. “While we do have a great deal of experience returning each team in itself is new and the challenge of bringing a group of young people together to achieve common goals is what motivates our staff.”

One of those experienced players coming back on the scene for the Pirates is junior running back Joel Velazquez. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound running back rushed for 659 yards on 135 touches in 2021 and should see his production continue to rise with Issac Edwards now graduated and last season’s quarterback Mike Tovine having transferred to Clermont East Ridge. Lohrey expects Velazquez to be a force not only on offense, but defense as well.

“Joel Velazquez returns and need him to have an outstanding season on both sides of the ball if we are going to reach our potential,” Lohrey said. “Great between the tackles and never been run down from behind when he hits a seam. Mike Tovine entered the transfer portal however we are confident we have guys on our roster who will improve the quarterback position.”

Despite the loss of Tovine, the Pirates must look ahead to playing within a tough Class 2-Suburban, District 9 that includes Belleview, South Sumter, Dunnellon and Hernando. From top to bottom, 2S-9 is one of the more talented districts in central Florida and Lohrey believes whomever can finish atop the district standings will have to earn it.

"Love the quality of depth of programs in our district, absolutely no weak link,” Lohrey added. “District champion of our district will have earned an accomplishment to be quite proud of.

“Every team starts out undefeated on August 1st with a chance to win the district. Certainly on paper you can argue this team or that team. Here is the great thing about high school football: games aren’t played on paper. So many variables we have no control over; the Pirates will do everything in their power to excel at the factors that we can control to have an outstanding season.”

Andy Villamarzo can be reached at and follow him on Twitter @Andy_Villamarzo.