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Zito 2.0: North coach looks to upgrade Raiders with full offseason
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Forsyth County News
North Forsyth is looking to turn a corner this year. If workouts six months prior to the season can be used as any kind of gauge, the Raiders might be well on their way.

North has absorbed the lesson that nothing comes easy in the state's highest classification, recording back-to-back 1-9 seasons against the athletic teams of Region 7-AAAAA.

A week after spring practice, though, second-year coach Jared Zito says that the Raiders look like a stronger and faster team themselves in 2008.

"I thought we a productive spring practice overall," Zito said, complimenting the development his players have made this offseason.

When he and his staff arrived on the North campus last year, Zito says they found a team without a single player able to lift a combined 1,000 pounds in the bench, squat and power clean.

This spring, six players have reached that mark and four more are within 50 pounds, the coach said.

"The combination of lifting five days a week before school and conducting speed training four days a week since January really made us a more powerful and explosive team since last year," said Zito, who serves as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in addition to his head coaching duties.

North opens up the season against a pair of Region 7-AAA teams, taking on West Forsyth at home Aug. 29 before traveling to Johnson a week later.

Zito says he expects West to become a traditional rival for North, even though the schools don't play in the same classification.

"A lot of our students know the students from West and in fact some of them went to North last year," he said.

Moving into region play, North hosts Duluth, Collins Hill, South Forsyth and region newcomer Chattahoochee. The Raiders will travel to Peachtree Ridge, Norcross, North Gwinnett and Northview, another new arrival to Region 7-AAAAA.

With a pair of AAA foes opening the schedule followed by region opponent Duluth, whom North has beaten two years running, Zito is hoping the team will come out of the gate strong before entering the meat of the schedule.

"Winning a a few games early on would be great for us as a team and program to get some momentum. Our biggest challenge here has been changing the mindset of our players, parents and community that we are a AAAAA program to stay and we have no choice but to raise our bar to compete with them," he said.

Zito said he's been happy to have the entire offseason to work with the players this year, a different situation from last year, when he was hired in April to take over the program while commuting from his former school.

"At that point I was still trying to put a [coaching] staff together, learn the players' names, all while driving from Etowah High School each day," Zito said.

"We have developed relationships with our players, which is very important, and that makes a lot of difference in coaching kids. The other thing that was easier than last year is that our players know the high expectations we have of their effort, behavior and attitude in a day-to-day basis."

Zito looks at spring practice as a good opportunity to install a base offense and defense, as well as review fundamentals that might get overlooked when it comes time to game plan specific opponents in the fall.

Another key aspect of spring drills is encouraging competition between players, he said.

"That is one of the biggest things we emphasized this spring -- competition," the coach said. "In the past, several things were given to players just because they were on the team, but now they have to earn the right to dress in the new varsity locker room, the right to dress on Friday night, the right to letter in a varsity game and ultimately compete for a win for us."

Along with wight lifting and speed training almost daily, Zito said the team has held sandbag training, pre-spring agility sessions, and the school's first "lift-a-thon" weight training event.

"The main thing we wanted to get across to our players is that being a part of a program is a year-round thing and not just during the season. You can get stronger every six weeks whether you are in football season or play another sport," he said.