Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Sports

Prep Football Previews: Spring Classics

BY CHRIS BERNHARDT JR.
Hernando Today

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Anclote at Springstead, 7 p.m.

Tonight's game won't officially mark the start of a new era for Springstead, but it will provide a trial run for the new guy in charge.

Not that Mike Garofano is all that unfamiliar. The former Eagle has been the team's defensive coordinator for the past decade.

But for the first game since the 1998 season opener, Bill Vonada won't be the head coach, having stepped down over the winter, replaced by Garofano.

"I'm excited," Garofano said. "I'm eager and I'm ready. I know the kids are ready to strap on a helmet and play someone else.

"It's (the spring) gone well. It's gone really well. The kids are working hard. Their preparation has been good. We're getting a lot of fundamentals taken care of, which is what the spring is all about."

Garofano joked that the added responsibilities of paperwork and fundraising have made him feel like "not only a coach, but almost like a businessman." But as he has for many years, he'll call the shots on the defensive side of the ball.

Assistant coach Dustin Kupcik, promoted to offensive coordinator, will try to maintain the ball control, triple option scheme that became a staple during Vonada's tenure.

Coming off a 9-2 campaign, in which they started 9-0 and claimed their first district championship since 1996, the Eagles have to replace more than just their headman.

Five of their 11 All-County selections are set to graduate, with the defense losing several key playmakers including linebacker Luke McLeod, the Defensive Player of the Year.

Also gone from the mix are defensive backs Nick Bailey and Pedro Estrada plus linebacker Joe Predoehl, along with left tackle Will Allen, guard Ethan Kemp and placekicker/center Scott Baker.

However, Springstead returns the county's top passer in Tyler Mahla, finishing up his junior year. Sophomore Daniel Wright rushed for 688 yards and nine touchdowns in a breakout 2012 season.

"We have a lot of competition going on. The theme of the spring is competing," Garofano said. "I've had many different depth charts this spring. It's an ever-changing thing. We evaluate on a daily basis. No one's spot is set in stone."

Anclote went 6-5 last year and advanced to the playoffs for the first time, but fell to Springstead in Week 3, 28-21.

The Sharks still have running back Willie Barrett, who posted 1,405 yards and scored 14 times on the ground as a junior.

Garofano said this exhibition will be played like a regular game, though some JV players figure to see the field late.

"We've prepared a little bit against what they ran against us last year," Garofano said. "The coaching staff is the same, but personnel changes. We'll see their first offensive and defensive series how much has changed.

"A win always helps, but I'll measure our success by the effort put forth on the field and a minimal amount of mistakes. The scoreboard doesn't mean as much to me as that, but we're going to play and I'm going to coach like we plan on winning."

Tarpon Springs at Nature Coast, 7:30 p.m.

When Nature Coast takes the field at Shark Tank Stadium against the Spongers tonight, the hosts will provide spectators with the first glimpse of life without Matt Breida.

Headed for Georgia Southern after rushing for 3,012 yards and 37 touchdowns over the past two seasons, the reigning Hernando Today Player of the Year leaves a considerable void in the Nature Coast backfield.

But from Rian Williams to Tevin Drake to Ike Bailey, the Sharks have become quite adept at replacing standout running backs.

Freshman DeShawn Smith is slated to take over at tailback. However, with two receivers in junior Rohan Blackwood and sophomore Jonathan Thomas receiving considerable attention from college scouts, Nature Coast recognizes were its strength will lie.

"When we come to the ball, we'll be in a spread (formation)," Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said. "What we shift to after that may change play to play. We'll be in some I-formation."

The problem for the Sharks (6-4 in 2012) continues to be finding someone to throw the ball. Juniors Trevor Castro and Ryan Quigley, as well as freshman Jamison Carnegie will each take turns trying to prove they can do the job under center.

There are plenty of other holes to fill, considering Nature Coast loses 18 seniors, many who saw significant playing time.

"We're young. I think everybody around knows that," Liggett said. "We came into the spring saying kids who excelled a year ago on JV have to step up and excel on varsity if we're going to be successful.

"We look at it as starting in January to now, we're a team that needs to mature; athletically, mentally, the whole thing. The sooner we mature, the better we'll be."

Liggett, the Sharks' longtime defensive guru, is particularly concerned about areas such as cornerback and linebacker. Blackwood, who had 14 sacks at defensive end, will likely have to shoulder an even larger load.

In this game, full varsity rosters will be used through three quarters, with some JV mixed in during the fourth. Kickoffs will be the only live special teams activities.

Nature Coast did trade film with Tarpon Springs, a team that went 3-7 last year.

"I don't like going into a game and having no clue," Liggett said. "When you go into a game, you want to be successful. I want us to play solid; I want us to play well on defense, and playing well on defense means keeping people out of the end zone.

"It'll be about executing what we want to do, but it'll be within the system of competing against Tarpon."

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

Hoping to make a fourth straight playoff appearance in the fall, Hernando's first spring under head coach Dwayne Mobley reaches its conclusion with a short trip north.

The Leopards (6-5 in 2012) have some significant holes to fill, chiefly those left by their two All-State selections, quarterback/running back Tyrail Hawkins and defensive end Robert Hill Bronson.

Without those two playmakers on either side of the ball, Hernando will look to players such as All-County junior Jeremiah Jackson. He recorded 132 tackles as a linebacker last season, and rushed for 494 yards and two touchdowns.

Junior Ra'shaad Hart (1,081 all-purpose yards, four touchdowns in 2012) is expected to play a bigger role, as well.

The Pirates went 6-4 this past season, but quarterback Joseph LaFleur, who threw for 1,127 yards and 18 touchdowns, and running back Dallas Baldner (1,798 all-purpose yards, 14 touchdowns) are set to graduate.

Calls to Coach Mobley were not returned.

Gulf at Weeki Wachee, 7 p.m.

Following a 3-7 first varsity campaign in which it was more competitive than the record shows, Weeki Wachee is trying to take the next step toward building up its program.

However, the Hornets are somewhat limping to the finish line this spring.

"The biggest problem we've had was injuries," Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee said. "But spring-wise, we've found out we've got a few players who have stepped up and we really like what they've done."

As a precaution, fullback/linebacker Andrew Vreeland won't play against Gulf tonight as he nurses a banged-up knee.

His backup at fullback, Devon Dupuis, is also out with a cracked bone in his leg.

But two players who are healthy are junior David Tinch and sophomore Marcus Allen, both sides of the Hornets' quarterback competition.

When Tinch missed a chunk of last season due to injury, the versatile Allen took over and put his athleticism on display.

Allen earned an All-County selection, rushing with 551 yards, throwing for 580 and eight touchdowns, and catching 12 passes for 161 yards. He scored four touchdowns.

Tinch will start under center, but as Lee said, "Marcus Allen is going to be on the field, whether it's at running back, wide receiver or quarterback."

Lee has concerns about a thin offensive line, and admits his focus has been more inward. Scouting the Buccaneers (0-10 in 2012) is especially difficult because they have yet to play under new head coach Jason Messamore.

The only wrinkle to the format is that punts and extra points won't be live.

"We both have the same mindset," Lee said of a conversation he had with Messamore. "We'll both work on what we need to improve on. It's really hard to game plan too much for Gulf.

"You want to get a win. It's important to end your spring and it sets the stage for the up-coming season. We definitely want to get better and improve in the areas we need to strengthen."

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