Crystal River at Hernando, 7:30 p.m.
For the first time in his high school coaching career, Bill Vonada will be roaming the sidelines for a team other than Springstead.
The Leopards’ newest headman makes his unofficial debut when Crystal River visits for a spring classic at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a spring game,” Vonada said. “You want to see who are the game players, who are the competitors. They’re still learning a brand new system. We’ll see what guys have figured the mental game out.”
This contest will feature live kickoffs and kickoff returns, but no rush or returns on punts, or rushes on field goals or extra points. Both varsity squads will play all four quarters.
Vonada said the Leopards, 3-7 last year, will dress 31-32 players. Not only is Hernando coming off a losing season, it returns only one All-County selection, defensive lineman Steven Delaine, who will be a senior in the fall.
As a result of such turnover, the team is still very much in the evaluation process.
“You’ve got practice players and guys who turn it up more in games,” Vonada said. “I’m a believer that if you don’t practice well, you’re not going to get many opportunities in the game. But there does seem to be guys who take it to another level.”
Junior Tyler Kline gets the start at quarterback, edging Dalton Coleman in the current competition. Kline was the team’s leading passer last season, completing 10-of-39 attempts for 539 yards, with five touchdowns against seven interceptions.
“Every position we’re evaluating,” Vonada said. “This spring, Tyler Kline, he’s gotten more reps. He’s absolutely done a great job with what we’re giving him.”
Richard Moore also garnered praise from Vonada, and he’ll man the halfback position, a pivotal spot with Vonada installing the triple option attack he honed in 15 seasons as Springstead head coach.
Vonada hasn’t spent much time focusing on Crystal River, a team that went 3-7 this past fall, but anticipates a stiff challenge. The Pirates are in their second year under head coach Nate Varnadore.
“The word on the street is that they’re big and strong and make up for it by being athletic,” Vonada said. “They’ll be quality across the board and we want to see who will strap up the chin strap and compete against them.
“We want to see an effort that guys will be proud of. We’ve got a whole summer to continue to get better on execution. We want to see guys play hard, stick together and represent the school with class.”
Tavares at Central, 7:30 p.m.
Much like Vonada, Chris Sands will make his initial appearance as head coach for the Bears tonight.
Keeping in mind Central went 0-10 in 2013 and hasn’t won more than two games in a season since 2008, this feels like more than an exhibition to Sands.
“We want to get our kids in a winning mindset. They haven’t had that in a while at Central, so our goal is put on a show and win,” Sands said.
Graduation will claim the player who was by far Central’s greatest offensive threat, running back Robbie Bradley, who rushed for 1,071 yards and six touchdowns.
Junior Cody Brooks will return under center, hoping to stay healthy as a senior this upcoming season. He has only played six games each of the past two years.
“He’s a strong-armed kid with great leadership ability,” Sands said. “Offensively we pride ourselves on getting the playmakers the ball. We’ll take what the defense gives us and play fast and play physical up front.”
Linebacker Chris Hernandez (129 tackles last year) will return as a senior, joined by fellow linebacker and classmate John Templar (55 tackles).
Tavares comes in trying to improve on a 4-6 showing, but Sands isn’t as concerned with scouting the opponent at this point.
This game will be played under normal rules, with the varsity teams going the distance.
“We’re definitely focusing on us, 100 percent,” Sands said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do we’ll be in pretty good shape.
“We want to have the kids realize this program can be a winning team. If we can get positivity with them and a championship attitude, that’s what we’re looking for.”