Cord Sandberg spent a sun-splashed afternoon inside Hawkins Stadium spinning spirals against Manatee’s first-team defense.
On the other end of the field was Brion Carnes, Manatee’s starting quarterback since his freshman year, prepping for the seventh playoff game of his career.
Sandberg may not get into tonight’s Class 5A-Region 3 quarterfinal at St. Petersburg Gibbs. But Manatee’s making the playoffs is a benefit to him, just as it is a benefit to the young guys at Braden River, Lakewood Ranch, Out-of-Door Academy and Southeast, the other area schools ready to plunge into the postseason tonight.
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While making the playoffs has its share of rewards — more numbers for the banner, a chance to win a state championship — perhaps the one thing that gets lost in the shuffle is time.
Or to be more specific, all the time a postseason ticket buys.
Sandberg, for example, is expected to slide under center next fall when Carnes takes his game to USF. Tonight’s game equipped Sandberg, who started for the undefeated junior-varsity team this year, another week of practice with the varsity squad, and another week to learn the offense he will be fueling in 2010.
“It’s huge,” said Chris Conboy, Manatee’s quarterbacks coach. “Coach (Joe) Kinnan, it’s one of his beliefs that’s why in high school football in Florida, one of the reasons those teams that get good stay good for a long. You get those JV guys to come up the last two weeks in the regular season, and if you go on a four-week run in the playoffs, they get six weeks.
“They’re getting a whole season of experience by finishing up with you.”
All season, Sandberg has spent the first half of practices with the varsity squad, sitting in the film room and getting used to how the big team does things.
But an additional week doesn’t hurt, especially since Manatee has already seen this pay off with defensive backs such as Deonte Huggins and Shaunski Lawrence, seniors who broke into the varsity ranks during the Hurricanes’ previous playoff runs.
This year, the two have teamed for 88 tackles and six interceptions.
“It’s just more reps,” Conboy said. “Tiger Woods said it takes 100,000 hours to become excellent at something, and you can’t do it in the offseason until summertime, and spring you can’t do anything until May.
“It keeps them going, and it keeps them active.”
And it’s not just for the JV guys. Another week of season is another week of preparation for Giovanni Francois, Southeast’s standout junior defensive lineman who missed three weeks with an ankle injury. It buys more time for Reggie Lindsey, Lakewood Ranch’s junior quarterback, who has been terrific during his first full season running the offense.
And it gets two of the area’s new programs, Out-of-Door Academy and Braden River, another week to get schooled in the varsity grind.
Only one team in each classification walks away a champion.
In the playoffs, however, every team walks away feeling better about the future.
John Lembo, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2097.