MANATEE -- Exposure is nothing new for the Manatee High School football team, which won its fifth state championship in a 40-point shutout last season.
All eyes are once again on the team ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps as it faces off 2 p.m. today against Miramar on the national stage during an ESPN2 broadcast.
A preseason game against Tampa Plant was broadcast two years ago on ESPN from Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium, but this is the first time a Hurricanes' regular season game will appear on the network.
"This is very exciting for the team, the school and the community," said Head Coach Joe Kinnan. "It gives us great exposure and helps with recognition of our area."
A crew of about 35 technical and production workers were on site Saturday setting up for the game. Camera operators will stand atop scissor lifts and a platform that was built and placed near an end zone. Six manned cameras and additional unmanned cameras will capture the action.
"You basically have a blank slate," said Diane Dovjak, ESPN operations producer, of broadcasting high school games. "College and profes
sional arenas are wired for television. They have that infrastructure."
Dovjak, who worked on the televised game two years ago, said familiarity with the stadium helps.
Engineers from Game Creek Video, a New Hampshire-based company, were setting up production trucks Saturday morning. The team arrived in Bradenton after spending the week covering the Miami Marlins and Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Essentially, we're here to get the truck set up, pass out equipment and fix anything that's broken," said Carmine Casella, mobile unit engineer. "Regardless of what goes wrong, we have to get the trucks show-ready."
Paragon Marketing, an Illinois-based company, is in charge of the overall operation.
Finishing touches were made to the field Saturday as the 'Canes logo was painted on the 50-yard-line and markers were freshened with white paint. ESPN signs was also added.
Kinnan said the 2 p.m. kickoff should work well for fans and television viewers.
Several thousands are expected to be in the stands -- many with cow bells.
"The boys asked for cow bells this season and cow bells they'll get," said Debbie Crowe, Booster Club secretary and owner of the Shake Pit, which provides food for the team prior to gameday. The restaurant's sign encourages others to join the noise-making frenzy.
The team usually plays on Friday nights and will have to adjust to the unusual schedule and work to remain hydrated in the afternoon heat, Kinnan said.
With the altered time frame, Crowe fed the 'Canes a special brunch Saturday. Also different was a dunking booth, provided by the Booster Club, where the team gathered for jokes and friendly competition after a morning practice.
Gene Brown, Booster president, said the fun should help the team stay loose in a high-pressure situation.
"Even though it's a high school game, the whole country will be watching," Brown said. "They've earned that privilege and the community is excited. Hopefully we'll win some early games and be No. 1 in all the polls."
Taking a break from attempting to dunk a fellow athlete, senior quarterback Cord Sandberg said he and his teammates are "antsy" and ready to play after waiting an extra two days to take the field.
"We're excited to play," said Sandberg, who recalls playing two years ago on the national network. "I would not want my senior year to start any other way than playing on ESPN2 against Miramar."
Teaming up with sportswear manufacturer Under Armour, Kinnan said all game proceeds after expenses will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, which serves military service members who incurred service-connected wounds, injuries or illnesses, and their families. The partnership is something the company does with several of its sponsored college teams.
Kinnan said off-season hype, helping Wounded Warrior and being in the national spotlight should have a positive effect on the game.
"It will be extra motivation," he said. "These kids are competitors and they want to play on the biggest stage possible."
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.