EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series on the new head football coaches in Hernando County, experiencing their first spring on the job.
Recent history hasn’t treated Central’s football team kindly.
The numbers are bleak, a 5-45 overall record dating back to 2009, and two of those victories were losses later turned to forfeits.
But this spring offers the first glimpse into a new beginning for the Bears, one they surely hope will spark a turnaround for the program.
Chris Sands is beginning his tenure as Central’s head coach in earnest, roaming the Bears’ sideline for the first time tonight when they host Tavares in an exhibition.
Sands is a big man, the former FAMU offensive tackle standing at 6-foot-9, and he’s thinking big, too.
“It’s going good,” Sands said. “We’re taking it one step at a time. I’ve been able to put together a great coaching staff that can help us move forward and win football games.
“These are probably the best kids I’ve dealt with being able to take coaching. They open their eyes and ears and minds. I have nothing but good things to say about these kids.”
According to Sands, the Bears have 50 players out on the practice field this spring, not counting a handful that are ineligible.
Some of that can likely be attributed to curiosity over the new coach. Still, Sands certainly doesn’t lack in enthusiasm.
“It seems like there’s a lot of excitement and anticipation,” Central athletic director Al Sorrentino said. “He’s pulled in some kids that haven’t been playing on campus and increased our numbers out there. I’ve watched them practice, there seems to be a lot of energy, it’s fast-paced.
“So far he’s what we thought we were getting. He’s picked up the level of discipline on the team. He’s put some things into play that have already earned him the respect of the faculty and staff, holding the kids accountable. He’s made it a privilege to be out there and the kids have responded to it.”
The question remains if the Bears can improve the product on the field. They’re coming off a 0-10 season, and have dropped 18 straight games.
When Sands was hired he rejected the notion that the Central situation couldn’t be salvaged. He has pieced together an almost entirely revamped staff, starting with associate head coach Jeff Woods, who was strength and conditioning coach during Sands’ days at FAMU.
Another FAMU grad, Mykel Benson, is stepping in as defensive coordinator. Benson is currently a fullback for the San Antonio Talons of the Arena Football League, where he’s second in the league in rushing.
Benson is stepping back from his professional career to help out the Bears, while Sands runs the offense.
One former Central assistant, Kevin Ballard, has returned to join the other coaches filling out the staff.
“My intention was to have a smaller staff,” Sands said. “We’re very close in age, all pretty young guys.”
That group at the moment is focused on preparing the Bears for today’s game, and the summer and season ahead.
“They want to be good and they want to succeed, so for me it was easy,” Sands said. “They just needed that structure.
“We’re preparing to win a football game. These kids are eager to win. That’s our number one goal, to win our spring game.”
“We’re all anxious to see,” Sorrentino said. “Coach is saying good things about the kids. He’s pretty confident and positive about what’s going on. We’re all curious to see the results.
“I’m anticipating a good showing, and we’ll see what happens and what direction we’re headed. Hopefully we made the right choice. All signs point to yes so far.”