Three Hernando County soccer players will extend their playing careers at the next level.
A pair of recent Nature Coast Technical graduates, John Connolly and Will Sandifer, joined Central graduate Eric Enders in signing with the NAIA Brewton-Parker College Barons in Georgia.
The local trio was recruited by former Central High goalie Mike Dye, who is the Barons' current head coach. Dye graduated from CHS in 2002. As a senior, he was a member of skipper John Andruss' first-ever district championship team.
Dye scouted each of the signees during the past winter season.
This past season, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Enders was named by the Hernando Today staff and area coaches to the All-County team following Central's 3-11-3 campaign under Alex Viramontes.
Besides soccer, Enders displayed his athletic versatility by competing in track and field for the Bears as a freshman, junior and senior, concentrating in the triple jump, long jump and 400.
Enders, the younger of two children to Carol Enders, was born and raised in Brooksville. He was recruited as a center back on defense.
Enders, 18, graduated with a 3.5 grade point average. He is undecided on his major in college, but said he is "leaning toward a career as a pharmacist."
On selecting Brewer-Parker over schools in Ohio and California, "I liked the fact that Brewer's campus was even smaller than Central's," admitted Enders. "It's not ridiculously large."
Recalling his visit, "I got to meet the kids and they treated me like family, even though they didn't know me," remarked Enders. "Coach Dye was pretty straightforward. He said making the adjustment to college isn't going to be easy."
On Enders, "Eric is a bright young man. What I like most is his hard-tackling ability and his mental toughness," declared Dye. "Any coach loves to have these types of traits in their defenders."
John William Connolly, 17, played for four varsity seasons under former Springstead Eagle standout Ian Wald.
Wald is the architect responsible for reversing the soccer fortunes at NCT. For the first time ever, NCT chalked up back-to-back winning seasons.
Additionally, the Sharks posted a school-record 11-9-4 won-lost-tied slate this past winter.
Connolly has been part of the turnaround, starting as goalie as a junior and senior. Of the Sharks' school-record five shutouts, Connolly was credited with four.
On signing with Brewton, "This was an opportunity of a lifetime," said the 6-foot, 180-pound Connolly. "After finishing my high school career, my goal was to play college ball and hopefully, play in the pros."
On detailing his prep career, "We tried to play our hardest," said the Spring Hill resident. "This year we noticed that we'd play a team tough and then we'd have trouble with the county teams. We had some long practices to reverse that trend.
"I'm glad I was part of growth at Nature Coast. I thought we got more team-based," said Connolly. "We started a winning tradition, a new culture. Because of what we started, maybe kids will go to Nature Coast instead of going to a soccer school like Springstead.
"When you look at what we accomplished as a team, we've really grown as a program and set several school records," added Connolly. "I do have one regret; I don't think I lived up to my expectations."
On what areas he's improved on, "My entire game has raised," declared Connolly. "Especially my vision. I've gotten so much better at shot blocking. Proper body positioning and communication come with the territory.
"As a goalie, I come into every game seeking a clean sheet (shutout)," noted Connolly. "That's only possible when we get unselfish play."
On what Connolly expects to bring to the Barons' pitch, "I bring leadership and a bond to any defense," he pointed out. "My job is to make sure we're all on the same page.
"Another asset is my ability to block shots," added Connolly. "I'm not afraid of anyone bending the ball at me in college."
Connolly, who'll attend Brewton for summer school, believes "I have to continue to work on defending set pieces," he said. "There's a certain trust factor involved. I thought I did terrible on corner kicks. Once we changed who was marking who I did a better job of exploding and attacking the ball."
Connolly graduated with a 2.45 GPA and expects to study business management.
"I thought Brewton really wanted me. It helps that Coach (Dye) was a goalkeeper and is from Hernando," noted Connolly. "The more I compared the other schools, the more I found myself wanting to go there (Brewton)."
Coach Wald described Connolly, saying, "He was a two-year starter for us and has a huge heart for the game. He has really good hands."
"John is a hard-worker in the net," added Coach Dye. "He is eager to learn more about the game and better himself as a goalkeeper. I'm excited to see his growth over the next four years."
Sandifer's calling card wasn't on offense. He totaled four goals and three assists in four seasons. He failed to score a point in 2012-13.
His strength, however, lies on defense.
Though he was never voted on to All-County team, he did participate in the second annual Post Your "T" senior-only all-star game on Mar. 9 at St. Petersburg-Northeast High School.
Coach Wald described Sandifer, saying, "He was one of our captains and he led the team with his actions. He's an extremely versatile player who can man mark or zone mark.
"Will only plays at one speed - that's 100 percent. He's extremely physical and passionate with a good skill set," added Wald. "To me, he was our anchor and core of our defense."
"Will is a versatile player, who can play anywhere on defense or in the midfield," said Coach Dye. "His quickness and stamina will help us next season, whether it's in his ability to be a box-to-box midfielder or a wingback, who wants to continuously be involved in the attack."
By the Numbers: Central's Eric Enders
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
* Denotes named All-County.
By the Numbers: Will Sandifer
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO