At first glance, it may seem the Lakeside Panthers' outlook for the 1997 football season is glum. The Panthers return only three starters on offense to a team which finished the season at a paltry 2-8. However, when one of those three is rising senior Rico Bravo, there is no limit to what can be achieved by Lakeside.
Bravo, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound quarterback-punter, was an Georgia Class AAAA Honorable Mention All-State selection at both positions last year, despite his team's lackluster record. In his first season on the varsity last year, Bravo completed 159 of 312 passes for 2030 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has also started at pitcher and shortstop in baseball and at shooting guard in basketball since his sophomore year.
"Rico is a great passer, with a lot of poise and good peripheral vision," Lakeside ninth-year coach Steve Crislip said. "But the key is his work ethic. He's got a gift, and he really works at it."
Bravo's stats, coupled with his arm strength and natural athleticism, have high profile Division I football programs lining up for his talents. Thus far, he has received letters from Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Clemson, North Carolina State and Navy, just to name a few.
Bravo is thrilled to have the opportunity to choose where he will attend college on a football scholarship. "There is no ideal college, as far as I'm concerned," Bravo said. "I'd like to go somewhere close to home, but I also want to go to a big program that passes a lot. The letter I received from Florida was a surprise to me because they're national champions."
All year long, Bravo's schedule has been non-stop. Basketball immediately followed football, and gave way to baseball in the spring. As soon as the baseball season ended, spring football practice was under way.
The summer offers no breaks for Bravo. On June 11, he leaves for Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to attend the Crimson Tide's summer football camp. Raleigh, N.C. is next on the itinerary, where Bravo plans to participate in North Carolina State's camp on June 22. He is playing in two different summer baseball leagues. Every Tuesday in June, Bravo will play in a summer passing league with other quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs from area schools such as Lakeside, Evans, Butler and Greenbrier. A daily workout in the weight room will complete Bravo's preparation for regular season practice in August.
Throughout the summer, Bravo will also work out and throw with several Lakeside alumni, including David Rivers, Nathan Thompson, and Tanner May. Rivers will be the second string quarterback at Virginia this year, Thompson is a tight end at Florida, while May is a wide receiver at Gardner-Webb University.
Bravo is poised to become the fourth consecutive Lakeside quarterback to play for a Division I school. Before Rivers, there was Todd Stanford, who currently plays for Texas Christian. Stanford followed Bais Osborne, who went on to play for Army.
"People know think of Lakeside as a passing offense, and that adds some pressure," Bravo said."To be considered the top quarterback out of Lakeside would be a great goal."
What Bravo enjoys the most about football is the feeling he gets after a big play. "When you complete a 60 or 70 yard touchdown pass, it feels like you've achieved everything you've worked for," Bravo said. "I love to hear `stop the pass' on the opposing sideline. When the hard work pays off, it will open the door for me, and that's great."
Bravo hopes he can lead the Panthers to their first playoff appearance since 1994, the year they moved up to Class AAAA. He will strive to bring out the winning attitude in his teammates. "I'd like to be a leader that my teammates can look up to," Bravo said. "I want to make everyone excel and give 110 percent. My biggest challenge is to push everyone and bring the team together as one."