EAST MANATEE -- When Curt Bradley was chosen as Braden River's head football coach two years, he wasn't given a fighter's chance.
He didn't get the job until the summer and missed all of spring practice. That first season was about playing catch-up. The Pirates won their final game of the season after losing nine straight.
Last year, Braden River was 5-4, but lost three of its four district games.
This season, the Pirates are looking to take the next step.
One person who feels the coach's pain is Jacob Huesman.
When he realized that he was going to be the starting quarterback after last season, Huesman has done everything possible to become a difference maker.
Huesman was the backup to junior Dusty Peebles last season, but looked good in several relief roles and started the final game, leading the Pirates to a win over Arcadia DeSoto. After last season, Peebles transferred to Bradenton Christian, and the quarterback job was left
Part of Huesman's plan was to get bigger and stronger. It means more time spent at the dinner table consuming as much food as he could.
"I put on about 20 pounds since the end of last season, and now I weigh about 198 and I am 6-2," Huesman said. "I consider myself a composed pocket passer, but if the chance to runs presents itself I will seize it. A quarterback is only as a good as the people around him. We have our entire offensive line back, and they protect me."
On offense, the Pirates return talented receiver Justin Ross, who has good size (6-2), athleticism and a knack for going up and getting those 50-50 balls. Carlos Crawford is the top returner at running back.
"My goal as a player is to make the team and teammates as best as they can be," Huesman said. "But the thing I want to do is win the district and help us get deep into the playoffs."
The success of the Pirates' season could rest with their defense. They will have to do it without linebacker Marcus Balliette, who led the team in tackles last year and was the defensive MVP.
"Jacob had a great winter. He put on about 15-20 pounds, increased his arm strength, and our offensive line is back," Bradley said. "We lost two starters in our secondary, two defensive linemen and our linebacker. Our defense is going all right. We lost our defensive end Justin Rollins, who was a real strong player for us last year. Rollins and Balliette gave us great leadership. We are looking to replace that."