Prep Rally | Elijah Freeman ready for rebirth of football at Bayshore High

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 22, 2013 

BRADENTON

Rebuilding Bayshore's football program will be an inside job.

As in, the real work will be done inside the Bruins' football helmets, inside the heads of the players who will be donning the school's colors this spring and fall.

Elijah Freeman knows all about this.

Hired in February as the school's new football coach, Freeman has begun working on his players' psyche rather than simply X's and O's. The goal is getting the Bruins to believe Bayshore can once again contend with anyone on its schedule.

That will require some elbow grease. The Bruins haven't made the playoffs since 2005 and haven't had a winning season since '03. They've struggled against their Manatee County brethren and have watched from the sideline while the likes of Manatee, Palmetto and Southeast have crafted one deep postseason run after another.

Before Freeman can turn his team into a winner again, the kids have to believe it. And this is where Freeman's experience comes into play: He comes to Bayshore after working under coach Dave Marino under Palmetto.

Since Marino landed across the Manatee River, the Tigers have made three straight playoff berths and took a trip to the final four in 2011.

"That was one of the critical components that Marino brought -- you had to act like a champion in all aspects," Freeman said.

That is why Freeman wants his players to be good students as well as good football players, why he plans on getting the football team involved in the community and perhaps how he is going to get more kids to strap on a helmet and pads before Bayshore meets Largo Pinellas Park in a May 24 spring game.

Freeman isn't working on campus yet, so he can't parade around Bayshore's halls and talk anyone into making their way toward football practice.

For now, he's leaving it in the hands of his players.

"I've already talked to some of the players and said, 'These are your buddies. So go and reach out to these young men,'" Freeman said.

As for the kids who have already committed to the program, Freeman said he likes what he sees thus far. He sees excitement. He sees players who are yearning for a fresh start. He sees players ready to write a new chapter of Bayshore football.

"Now it's my job to build on that, for me to validate that," Freeman said, "to make sure all that excitement isn't in vain."

Is there a state championship in Bayshore's immediate horizon?

That may be asking for too much too soon.

Right now, that shouldn't even be a priority. Because for the 2013 Bruins, it's what inside that counts.

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2097. Follow him on Twitter at@JohnLembo1878.

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