The upside-down trash cans sat on the practice field adorned with Palmetto High football helmets to replicate an offensive line.
Assistant coach Elijah Freeman dropped back, slinging passes as 10 Tigers either ran routes or played defense.
Desmine Ross and Derrick Bradley were two of Palmetto’s standout defensive backs taking reps.
It was also 30 minutes before Wednesday’s practice commenced.
The pre-practice reps is something Palmetto has done this week ahead of a pivotal Class 7A-District 11 showdown with Braden River.
Pirates quarterback Louis Colosimo produced 469 passing yards and four touchdowns in last Friday’s 42-35 loss at Venice. Showcasing a different dimension to Braden River’s patented run-first offense got Palmetto’s attention.
“We have to make sure we’re on point,” Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. “We feel good about our back end, but we just want to make sure, schematically and technically, we’re sound back there.”
The two Manatee County rivals are at a crossroads this week.
Palmetto reached a Class 5A state semifinal in 2011, where they ran into Miami Norland’s Duke Johnson, who is now with the Cleveland Browns. Johnson ran for 356 yards to lead Norland past Palmetto and to the 5A title that season. Since then, Palmetto hasn’t won a district title and didn’t make the playoffs last year.
Braden River, which surged to the program’s first state semifinal appearance after eliminating the Tigers from playoff contention with a 35-0 victory last fall. But the Pirates’ defense dealt with their own 300-plus yard rushing game when Venice’s Matt Laroche ran wild to snap the program’s 25-game regular season winning streak last week and served as the first regular season loss for this year’s seniors.
The big difference this season compared to the last two years when the two locked up is the game is at Harllee Stadium on Friday. Palmetto’s student section has a blackout scheduled to create an unfriendly atmosphere for Braden River. The Pirates, though, are acclimated to the road after running out of time in their comeback bid last week in Venice.
Palmetto’s crack at unbeaten, state-ranked Venice comes next week. But the first test is this week’s matchup with Braden River.
The difference in 2015 was the Pirates’ massive offensive line. And like the Tigers’ defense, which leads the county with 20 takeaways this fall, took extra reps before practices this week, seeing how Braden River’s O-Line performed last year caught Marino’s attention.
“If we’re going to play big boy football, we’ve gotta get bigger and stronger up front,” Marino said.
So Palmetto put 6-foot-2, 305-pound senior Rodshon Williams on the line alongside guys like Eriq Porter, Christian Kalish, Corey Brady and Jesse West, who hit the weights hard in the offseason to prepare for a moment like Friday’s game.
“This is probably the biggest offensive line we’ve seen this year,” Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said. “They’ve got some large bodies in there. ... These guys are more large bodies that really try to move people with sheer size.”
Giving Colosimo time to operate in the pocket, while Raymond Thomas and Deshaun Fenwick, who have ran for a combined 1,411 yards this season, find running room is paramount to Braden River’s offensive success this week.
Success is the only option, if the Pirates are playing past the first week of November.
“This is it. If we lose, there’s no playoffs,” said Colosimo, an IMG Academy transfer that has 16 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. “Because we know we’re fighting for a playoff spot this Friday. It’s definitely new to this program. I think we’ve done a good job of kind of responding to that and realizing, especially for our seniors, our season will be over in a few weeks if we don’t win this game.”
Week 9 Schedule
Cardinal Mooney at Victory Christian Academy (Lakeland), 6:30 p.m.
Seffner Christian at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Bradenton Christian at St. Pete Canterbury, 7 p.m.
Out-of-Door Academy at Windermere Prep, 7 p.m.
Braden River at Palmetto, 7:30 p.m.
Manatee at Riverview, 7:30 p.m.
Venice at Lakewood Ranch, 7:30 p.m.
Hardee at Southeast, 7:30 p.m.
Bayshore at Desoto County, 7:30 p.m.
IMG Academy at Trinity Christian, 7:30 p.m.