Prep football | Spring practice begins with a splash

Area teams reconvene, some under cover, on wet opening day

jlembo@bradenton.comMay 2, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The first day of spring practice came equipped with its first challenge: rain.

A chilly, steady rain drenched 94 players and coaches who worked out behind Hawkins Stadium on Wednesday evening.

Manatee's practice, its first since last season's Class 7A state semifinal loss at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, lasted a little more than 80 minutes because of the weather.

The Canes didn't hit the field until around 4:15 p.m.

"We made the most of a bad weather situation," coach Joe Kinnan said. "We had a lot longer of a meeting than we anticpated to have. ... We had to eliminate a couple of things, but we still did the things we had to get done."

Wednesday marked the beginning of a transitional year for the Canes. For one, they'll be competing in Class 8A, the largest in the Florida High School Athletic Association. And they'll be doing so with most of their talented defensive line -- Blake Keller, Derrick Calloway and Marquis Dawsey, leaving Florida State commit Demarcus Christmas as the lone holdover -- and quarterback Cord Sandberg.

Sandberg accounted for more than 9,700 yards of offense in three years under center and has committed to Mississippi State, though his name may be called in the baseball draft.

"Every position is open," Kinnan said. "That's what spring is all about."

Over at Bayshore, the area's only new head coach, Elijah Freeman, presided over his first official workout. Unlike several other schools, the Bruins got outside for about an hour, though they started their workout in the cafeteria.

"It was interesting," Freeman said. "It was not a sunshining day. But for the most part, the kids showed they were ready to play football. That was exciting to see."

Just 34 players attended the first practice as Bayshore tries to get its first winning season since 2003.

Among other area schools:

• Trying to replace 22 seniors, Southeast head coach Paul Maechtle has a big rebuilding job on his hands and felt somewhat disappointed that only 49 players showed up for the first day of spring drills.

To make matters worse, leading rusher Courtney Allen, who could break the Manatee County career rushing mark next season, is currently academically ineligible. The rising senior can practice, but cannot play in the spring game. Expected to fill his role this spring at running back are Kevin Johnson and Frank Brice.

Maechtle is looking to find a replacement for quarterback Myles Braxton-Johnson, the Noles signal caller the past two years. The leading candidate is James Thomas, who started one game last season.

"There are 49 pieces of a puzzle that we have to put together and make a program with," Maechtle said. "A bright spot from a coaching standpoint is that we are teaching a lot of kids who are receptive because they want to get one of those open positions. We have two starters back on the offensive line, but lost our quarterback and two wide receivers and we need to find a kicker."

• Palmetto opened its spring inside with about 70 players.

"That rain just crushed us, but we got some work done in the gymnasium. It was about as productive as a day inside could be," Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said.

The focus of spring workouts will be on offense, where the Tigers must replace a talented group of receivers. But quarterback Chris Tuten and running back Josh Hicks are back, though Marino said rising sophomore Jack Allison will provide competition for Tuten after leading the junior varsity last season.

"Losing all four of our wide receivers, we need to fill those spots and see what kind of offense we'll be able to run," Marino said.

• The biggest thing at Braden River is head coach Curt Bradley is there. He wasn't hired until last summer and missed all of 2012 spring practice, which played a role, along with a bevy of injuries, in a disappointing season.

One of the major goals this spring is to develop depth and stay healthy. Dusty Peebles returns at quarterback, but Bradley is hoping to generate competition at the position this spring with Jacob Huesman vying for playing time. He was happy to have 72 players turn out for the first day.

"We had about 80 percent of our players playing both ways last year. When you are rebuilding a program you are looking for competition at all positions," Bradley said. "We lost some guys on our defensive line and linebacking corps and we are looking to rebuild those positions and offensive line. We are mainly trying to develop a lot of the youth we have."

• Lakewood Ranch head coach Shawn Trent said his goal this spring is to put the Mustangs in the best position possible to get ready for the start of the season. The biggest job will be trying to improve the offensive line that plays such a vital role in his offensive scheme.

Lakewood Ranch lost two-year starting center Michael Farhat, but has leading rusher Chris Pearcey returning at running back. The future of this program probably rests with a freshman class that is talented and skilled so there will be a lot of emphasis on teaching this spring. Most of the defense is back, but the Mustangs will be looking to replace linebacker Luke Sears, who made all the adjustments and calls on the field for the last two years.

• Bradenton Christian starts a season of promise with just 24 players but key returnees in running back Sinclair Laskett, quarterback Joey Giardina and linebacker Lance Perkins.

The Panther spent their first day in the gym because of nearby lightning.

"We met, we lifted, did a little gym thing," head coach Allen Gerber said. "We've just got to get better. We've got to seriously approach what we're doing and develop depth."

Bradenton Christian is still searching for its first playoff berth.

• Despite being stuck inside, Cardinal Mooney got a pleasant surprise when 6-foot-7 basketball player Matt Hueston returned to the football team after a year away. He's slated to play defensive end and wide receiver.

The Cougars return talented offensive players in rising junior quarterback Reese Vita and rising senior running back DeMardre Patterson.

"We did a little extended classroom work. It wasn't the worst thing in the world on the first day. ... Everybody in the state of Florida is excited on May 1," Smithers said. "Every spring we try to put a huge emphasis on defensive side in tackling and on offense blocking across the board."

• Coaches at Saint Stephen's at Out-of-Door Academy were unavailable for comment.

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