EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in a three-part series on the new head football coaches in Hernando County, experiencing their first spring on the job.
Nature Coast faces a long trip across the state today in order to get in some exhibition action this spring.
The Sharks travel to Daytona Municipal Stadium for a jamboree against both host Daytona Beach-Seabreeze and Titusville-Astronaut, starting at 6:30 p.m.
Nature Coast will play two quarters against Astronaut, then two more against Seabreeze before Astronaut and Seabreeze square off.
There will be no kickoffs, with each team starting at their own 25-yard line, and no live punts or place kicks.
“We’ll see what we’ve got as far as being on the same page,” Nature Coast head coach Justin Worden said. “We’ll see what’s clicking, what’s not, and who shows up when the lights come on.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a great spot to see some competition. It’s two different styles of football. Astronaut will run at you a lot more than Seabreeze does, and (Seabreeze head coach) Marc Beach, give him any kid you want and he can make him into an 1,000-yard quarterback.”
Though the distance will likely limit the amount of Hernando County football fans in attendance, this contest marks the first glimpse into the program Worden hopes to build as he embarks on his first year at the school.
So far, Worden has enjoyed his time at Nature Coast, both on and off the field.
“It’s a magnet school, so the kids that are there are there with a purpose,” said Worden, who has already served as boys weightlifting head coach. “It’s kind of cool to see that and see kids that want to be where they’re going.”
This is truly a brand new beginning for the Sharks. Counting Tommy Keeler, who was headman during the team’s JV-only first season in 2003, the program has gone through five previous head coaches.
However, the last four were either assistants promoted from within – Jamie Joyner and Charles Liggett – or outside hires, Mark Lee and Mark Nash, who retained the vast majority of the incumbent staff.
This time only one assistant, Rudy Story, has been brought back under Worden, making this the first complete overhaul the Sharks have experienced.
“It’s nice to have something fresh and new. He’s changed a lot of things and I think that’ll be good for us,” Nature Coast athletic director Kristin Peeples said. “The kids are excited. They’re excited about the program. They’re buying into what he’s doing and what’s he’s bringing to Nature Coast.
“I really do believe in what he’s doing. I think he’ll do a good job. It’ll be different, but sometimes different is good.”
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Worden has inherited a team that went 4-6 in 2013 and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009. But he has had to jump into the recruiting fire thanks to offensive tackle Christian Pellage. The 6-foot-7, 250-pounder enters his senior year as a four-star recruit.
“He’s a really humble kid,” Worden said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to be around someone recruited as heavily as him.
“One, it’s been cool just as the college football fan in me getting to meet these (colleges coaches) and pick their brains. But Christian is doing a real good job handling that stuff. He’s real no-nonsense when it comes to recruiting and that’ll help him out because he’s not getting worn out by them.”
Pellage and running DeShawn Smith are pivotal cogs on an offensive unit Worden hopes can improve its passing attack, to keep opposing teams from loading up the box and keying in on the run.
On defense, two more seniors-to-be next season, Leshaun Gray and Dylan Miller, have taken on leadership roles, Worden said. Miller was an All-County selection as a junior, registering a team-high 114 tackles.
“The whole senior class has been pretty great,” Worden said. “It’s nice for me and nice for them. It doesn’t matter who’s been a leader before and who’s been a knucklehead before. I’m new.”
He’s a familiar face to Astronaut, his alma mater where he played and began his coaching career.
Nature Coast’s participation in this jamboree came about after its initial spring opponent backed out. Though they’ll go a long way, this will at least afford the Sharks an opportunity for game repetition to iron out the kinks.
“What we’ve got in, they’re picking up real well, but there’ll be those little mistakes,” Worden said. “Any time you’ve got something new that’s kind of expected. It’ll be nice to get everybody on the same page, play someone with a different helmet and see what tweaks we need to work on over the summer.”