Prep football | Manatee High football team ready for national TV spotlight

Made-for-ESPN2 game vs. Miramar alters routine

jlembo@bradenton.comSeptember 2, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Willie Smith stood about 15 feet from a dunk tank Saturday afternoon, tossed a ball up in the air and caught it with the same hand.

Manatee's senior defensive back issued a warning to anyone willing to sit on the board perched just above the tank and give Smith a chance to soak them.

"I was T-ball champ," he said.

When one of Smith's throws skipped past the tank and bounced off a nearby wall, he claimed he had slipped on some wet grass.

His teammates didn't believe him.

It was a bizarre ending to a bizarre week for Manatee High's football team, a week the Hurricanes cap at 2 p.m. Sunday when they host Miramar in a game broadcast live on ESPN2.

It will mark second time in two years the Canes will be on national television. ESPN broadcast their 2010 Kickoff Classic against Tampa Plant.

High school football on a Sunday?

"Being at school on Friday

and knowing there was no game that night, just practice to look forward to," said quarterback Cord Sandberg, "it was kind of weird. I just think everyone's antsy."

While every other school kicked off its regular season Friday night, Manatee prepared for Sunday's game with the Patriots, who finished state runner-up to Plant in Class 8A last year.

They are running on Hurricanes time: Friday to everyone else was like Wednesday for Manatee. Consequently, they spent Saturday morning going through an hourlong, pads-free walkthrough, similar to how the Canes would treat Thursday if they were playing on a Friday.

Got it?

"The week was kind of different, we had to practice on different days," senior defensive end Blake Keller said. "We went full pads on Wednesday and Thursday, in the middle of the week, and that was kind of weird. But at the end, it's still a game and we're still ready to play."

School was closed Monday in anticipation of Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaac. No school means no practice, and while the wrinkle may have proved bothersome if it was a standard week, when teams have four days to practice before a game, it may have helped the Hurricanes deal with the peculiar circumstances.

"I was kind of happy we had Monday off," Sandberg said. "If we would have practiced (all week), that would have been crazy. ... It ended up being not as crazy as it would have been. I'm sure Monday, if we would have had school, we would have came out here and thrown a little bit and done something."

After Saturday's practice wrapped, the Hurricanes munched on kielbasa sandwiches as members of Manatee's student council worked on the turf lining Hawkins Stadium, painting the numbers on the field red, white and blue and giving a fresh coat of red to the big M at midfield.

All the game's proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. Manatee will wear special uniforms to commemorate the organization, which assists the country's wounded servicemen and servicewomen, and its logo on a helmet sticker.

Manatee special teams coach Dennis Stallard called attention to the sticker during Saturday's post-practice huddle, and the Wounded Warrior Project was scheduled to be discussed further during Saturday night's banquet at the Bradenton Country Club.

After lunch, some of the players made their way to the dunk tank, provided by the team's booster club, trying to dunk each other as well as running backs coach Rod Frazier and trainer Chris Peters.

Both splashed down in the tank, with Frazier getting wet courtesy of backup quarterback Chase Richardson.

"I liked you, Chase," Frazier joked. "Why did you do that?"

The dunk tank provided a cool respite for Saturday's temperatures, which topped out at 94. It was good preparation for today -- is forecasting sunny skies and a high of 92 with 64 percent humidity, conditions that can be brutal for players accustomed to playing at night.

In order to prepare for the heat, Manatee will have a misting fan blowing toward the bench and about 160 ice towels for the players to use between series. Gatorade is one of the game's sponsors, so Manatee and Miramar will have more than 70 gallons of the sports drink at their disposal.

It should make for an interesting capper to an interesting week. But for the payout of playing on national television, the price seemed worth it.

"Not many people in the nation get to do this," said defensive lineman Derrick Calloway.

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