Hernando at River Ridge, 7:30 p.m.
After a successful 15-year run at Springstead, Bill Vonada headlines three head coaches in Hernando County ready to embark on the first season at their respective schools.
The Hernando High faithful will receive their first glimpse of Vonada’s Leopards since a rough 28-3 loss to Crystal River in the spring, as Hernando travels to New Port Richey to take on River Ridge.
“We’re starting to figure it out,” Vonada said. “It’s a whole new system for these guys; that’s a battle we have to fight. It’s a different way of doing things, but I’m really proud that they’ve stuck around.”
For a roster low on numbers, there’s an even greater onus on stay healthy, and Vonada added, “We’d like to see who are our ‘game guys,’ guys who can step up and finish.
“It’s a good chance for us to evaluate. One of our biggest keys to look for is how we are fundamentally. Fundamentally, we’ve got to continue to improve. We need to work on tackling, ball security, things like that.”
Vonada added that the team is particularly trying to sort out the running back, linebacker and defensive back spots.
The Royal Knights, like Hernando, went 3-7 last season. These two teams were supposed to play a preseason contest at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium a year ago, but it was wiped out by threats of inclement of weather and flooding.
The Leopards hope to avoid that situation this time, as they prepare for a rugged early-season schedule featuring back-to-back trips to Jacksonville. This game will be played under standard rules with only varsity players.
“They’re keeping score, so we want to win,” Vonada said. “It’s still an evaluation process Friday. But we expect everyone in there to compete to win.”
Citrus at Nature Coast, 7:30 p.m.
Like Hernando, Nature Coast is also breaking in a new head coach in Justin Worden. The Sharks played in a three-team jamboree in Daytona Beach in the spring.
As a result, this will mark the first time local fans can get an up-close look at Nature Coast under its new leadership.
“We definitely want to see how well we line up and want to see the same effort and intensity that we had in the spring game,” Worden said.
When these two teams squared off during last year’s preseason in Inverness, the Hurricanes drubbed the Sharks, 47-7.
It was a precursor of things to come, as Nature Coast went 4-6 while Citrus went 9-2 and advanced to the playoffs.
However, the Hurricanes were stunned by the departure of head coach Rayburn Greene to nearby Seven Rivers Christian.
Worden believes that Citrus will present a similar scheme to those the Sharks will see in the regular season. This will also be a full-varsity contest under regular rules.
“I’m a competitive guy. If I’m going to be in a game I’m going to be all the way in. I think the kids see that and they’re going to do the same thing,” Worden said. “They really want to come out with a different result (than last year) and have some momentum heading into the regular season.”
Lecanto at Weeki Wachee, 7 p.m.
One coach who isn’t new in Hernando County is Weeki Wachee’s Mark Lee, the only headman in school history now guiding the Hornets into their third varsity campaign.
Last year, Weeki Wachee earned a 16-15 preseason triumph over the Panthers, but went on to go 3-7 for the second straight season.
Hoping to take a significant step forward, the Hornets begin against a perennially struggling Lecanto squad coming off a 2-8 record in 2013 and breaking in a new head coach, Greg Harper.
Lee said his primary focus is on execution and effort.
“Like every high school coach probably across the country, I’m excited to see someone in a different jersey,” Lee said. “We’ve gotten better and better each day, but we lost a lot of key positions last year and guys have stepped up. We’re hoping that translates into the game (Friday) night.
“The biggest thing for me is defensively, stop the run; offensively being consistent, moving the ball and eliminate turnovers.”
As the Hornets attempt to build a winning culture, Lee isn’t downplaying the importance of today’s outcome. This will be a normally played varsity game.
“I hope we all want to win. If not, that’s not a good trait to have,” Lee said. “These kids have worked real hard this summer. I’m sure they want to win. It’s important. It’s the jump-start to the season. It gets you off on the right foot. That’s always a good thing.”
Central at Williston, 7:30 p.m.
Central’s Chris Sands is just getting started with his first season leading the Bears, and on the other sideline tonight will be one of his predecessors.
Cliff Lohrey, Central’s head coach from 2006-09, was hired at Williston over this offseason, inheriting a Red Devils team that went 6-4 in 2013.
Meanwhile the Bears haven’t won a game on the field since September 2012, and lost 35-22 to Tavares in the spring in Sands’ unofficial debut.
Williston won 19-6 over Central in Brooksville last preseason. This will be a full-varsity game, though special teams won’t be live.
“The kids are really working hard. The coaching staff has really put in the time and effort,” Sands said. “These coaches and the guys have sacrificed so much. I’m really excited. I’m looking forward to it.
“I really want to see our team take that step forward. Winning this game is definitely key. I just want to see us move forward. We can’t take a step back.”
Sands admits that his players are eager to win, and he’ll pay close attention to the maturation of senior quarterback Cody Brooks.
“I think making our team believe that they can win will result in a win,” Sands said, “and I really think that’s what we’re trying to rally around.”