Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
Sports

Friday Night Lights Prep Football Previews: Preseason

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Nature Coast at Citrus, 7:30 p.m.

For the first time since 2008, Nature Coast will take part in a preseason classic as it travels to Inverness to face Citrus.

This one will be a straight-up contest played under normal rules and employing only varsity squads, by request of Citrus head coach Rayburn Greene said Nature Coast headman Charles Liggett.

"We're going to play to win," Liggett said. "Coach Greene wanted it to be a game-like setting. He didn't want to break it into JV or anything like that. So we'll play it like a regular game as far as who comes in, we'll approach it like that."

This matchup features two teams who finished with winning records in 2012 - Nature Coast at 6-4 and Citrus at 7-4 - yet missed the playoffs in rugged districts.

"We exchanged film and we know we have certain things we need to work on, but our game plan is based on executing what we think will work against what they do," Liggett said.

"When I think of Citrus, and I know from the weightlifting team even though we haven't competed against them lately, I know they're strong, I know they're solid. We've had really good games with them in the past."

The Hurricanes are expected to have another fine season, in part because of several returnees as well as a handful of key transfers.

Meanwhile the Sharks are moving forward most notably without graduated running back Matt Breida. His replacement, sophomore DeShawn Smith, ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns in the spring classic, a 33-24 win over Tarpon Springs.

Today's contest figures to represent a legitimate dress rehearsal, as Liggett indicated there are no set plans to pull the starters. He said nearly his entire roster should see game action on a regular basis, even if only on specials teams, anyway.

But he's admittedly not thrilled about having to jump into taking on an opponent earlier than normal for the Sharks.

"It hasn't hurt us when we've not played a classic," said Liggett, who was defensive coordinator back in 2008. "This is the first time in a while for me and it's taking a little getting used to. It's a new experience for us.

"Honestly, I've got split feelings. Our kids want to hit somebody else; they want to play somebody else. They want to win, too. I'd like to have another week to prepare without playing a ballgame.

"I think for this young team, the classic could be huge, because if we're successful it's a huge step ahead.

"If Citrus is better than us, but we execute and do everything we're supposed to do . that's not a negative. That could be a success. But I think in a game that keeps score, we need to win to build confidence even more."

River Ridge at Hernando, 7:30 p.m.

When River Ridge comes to Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium to face Hernando tonight, each team will also treat it like a regular-season tilt.

These two clubs are no longer district foes, probably a good thing in the eyes of the Royal Knights, who lost 35-0 to the Leopards last year en route to a 3-7 season.

"This is our first game and we'll work on getting better every week," Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley said. "I really don't know too much about them. We're coming in expecting what they did last year and we'll work from there. If they do something different, we'll game-plan for that during halftime and work from there."

Though the Leopards went 6-5 and reached the playoffs for a third straight year last season, there's plenty of intrigue as to whether they can overcome personnel losses and settle in offensively in their second year under Mobley.

To that end, the starting quarterback spot remains a three-way battle between juniors John Coleman and Tyler Kline, and versatile senior Ra'shaad Hart. Mobley said he still hasn't decided who will get the nod, and anticipated that all three would take some snaps.

All other positions are generally settled, and Mobley happily reported no injuries.

Hernando opens the regular season with a brutal stretch, hosting reigning Class 4A state runner-up Jacksonville-Bolles followed by 5A regional finalist Jacksonville-Bishop Kenny, before going to Citrus. So the Leopards need to play sharp out of the gate.

"We want to make sure we've got our assignments down, that we're blocking the right people, doing the right things when we call the plays," Mobley said. "If you're not doing the right things, you're not going to help us out anyway.

"Don't get me wrong, we'd like to win, too. But winning is not the whole big picture."

Weeki Wachee at Lecanto, 7:30 p.m.

Beginning its second varsity season, Weeki Wachee visits Lecanto tonight, a rematch of the Panthers' 24-7 win over the Hornets last year.

Finishing 5-6 represented a step in the right direction for perennially struggling Lecanto, but the school made a unique decision to go independent this year rather than be part of a district that included the defending 6A state runner-up, Gainesville.

The Hornets went 3-7 in 2012, though they stayed surprisingly competitive in the great majority of their games.

In the spring Weeki Wachee survived an overtime barnburner over Gulf, 50-49.

"It's going good," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said last week. "We're just very thin. We're low in numbers this year. The kids are trying to work hard."

Williston at Central, 7:30 p.m.

As Central hopes to improve off another tough season, going 1-9 last year, it'll try to take care of business against Williston.

The Red Devils, a 1A program, went just 2-8 in 2012, so there's a strong opportunity for the 5A Bears to build positive momentum heading into the regular campaign.

"The fall camp has been very intense, probably the most intense we've had in the four years I've been there," Central head coach Mike Einspahr said last week. "We had a good summer. We did some good team things at the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) camp we attended and it has been very intense. I'm very pleased."

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