The crafting of Braden River’s football program has been methodical, pieced together with pristine planning and patience.
There was no rush in the Pirates’ program, no immediate need to jump in with the big boys.
They took their time. Took their lumps. Slowly added varsity teams to a schedule once dominated by junior-varsity competition.
The payoff was big — Braden River advanced to the Class 3A playoffs last year. Then the Pirates beat Palmetto, advancing to the second round. Then the Pirates nearly beat Arcadia DeSoto.
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Now, it’s a new year. Naturally, for Braden River, there is a new plateau to reach.
It’s Destination District Championship for Braden River in 2009, one that gets under way tonight when the Pirates host Bayshore in a Class 3A-District 10 opener.
This isn’t to say Braden River isn’t the lone Manatee County team in search of district gold. Nor will it be easy — not with the teams packed into that district. This is to say, however, this is the natural next step.
“We don’t expect nothing less,” senior tailback Tevin Bryant said.
Nor should they. It’s a testament to how far Braden River has come that the players’ goals are so lofty, that a simple trip to the playoffs won’t be enough.
You saw it last year at Arcadia DeSoto, as the seconds ticked down and a successful season melted away. The enduring image of that game is linebacker Mick Olitsky, slapping his helmet in frustration while the Bulldogs took a knee and turned their gaze toward a regional final.
Never mind the fact Braden River limited De-Soto, which torched the Pirates for 42 points in Week 3, to just 14 in the rematch. Or the fact that no one, outside of the guys in Braden River’s locker room, thought the second round of the playoffs was within the team’s reach.
“When we beat Palmetto, the bar had been readjusted,” head coach Ed Volz said. “We were no longer a program that was new. With the playoff win, we indicated that we were going to be a very competitive program.”
Volz’s take is that every game is important, and that getting into the playoffs, whether you have a district title or not, is paramount.
“The goal is to get into the state playoffs,” he said. “All that winning the district gets you is a home playoff game. Whether you’re playing a district champion or a runner-up in the first round, you’re going to be playing a really good football team.”
Getting in is what counts. But for Braden River, winning a district title is the next step.
“It’s definitely in the plans,” Bryant said.
The plans have worked so far.