Needs A Big Season From: Marcus Balliette, sr., linebacker
The coaching staff is expecting a big season from Balliette. The 5-11, 205-pounder is the anchor of a defense that Bradley is hoping will be much improved. Balliette, enter his third year as a starter, led the Pirates last season with 85 tackles and had two sacks, five tackles for losses and three forced fumbles.
He is always around the ball, possesses good coverage skills and is a sure tackler. Balliette also has proved to be a valuable weapon on offense. In the Pirates' spring game against Cardinal Mooney, he caught four passes for 82 yards. But defense is expected to be his forte, and he is the strength of a solid linebacking corps that includes Joseph Evans and Jamal Albritton.
Balliette has a strong upper body to go along with his thick legs and has better-than-average speed for a linebacker. But his strongest attribute could be his demeanor. He is very aggressive, is quick at coming up to stop the run and can drop back and cover wide receivers.
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Bradley is enamored by Balliette because he sets such a good example for the other players and has natural leadership skills. He was used last year in a lot of areas, including outside linebacker and on the defensive line. He showed an innate ability to find the ball carrier and bring him down.
"Marcus is one of those kids who shows up to work every day and I expect we will get a good season out of him," Bradley said. "He is our best defensive player and is being looked at as a higher level Division II or (FCS) and lower-level Division I (FBS). If he puts in a good season, he will get a lot of offers. He has the talent."
Balliette has proven to be very cerebral player who is blessed with linebacker skills. He has shown a knack for shedding blockers, and his skill set enables Braden River to employ several defensive schemes. He is a punishing tackler who is a good at forcing fumbles.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Justin RAWLINGS, sr., defensive end/receiver
Rollins is a senior who has never played football. But on a team that is short in many areas, he could be a big plus. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, a member of the Pirates basketball team, first played football in the spring. The coaching staff is counting on him to be a force at defensive end to help solidify a line that has a number of holes. As a receiver, coaches like his size and good hands and hope he can add something to the passing game, but defense is where he brings the most hope.
DEEP AT: Linebacker/receiver
The linebacking corps is the strongest unit on the defense with a decent amount of quality talent and experience. Middle linebacker Marcus Balliette leads the unit and has two solid performers on each side of him in junior Jamal Albritton and senior Joseph Evans. The receiving corps boasts playmakers in Justin Ross, Andre Mays and Austin Fox.
THIN AT: Lines
The Pirates are still a work in progress in the trenches on both sides of the ball. These units are young, inexperienced and short on numbers. Braden River lost two good offensive linemen from last year in Trevon Young and Kelvin Albritton plus a couple of guys from the spring. The rock of the offensive line is Alex Salguero, who started every game as freshman last year. The good news is junior Damon Goldon is healthy from shoulder surgery and will play offensive tackle and defensive end.
HERALD'S FORECAST: 4-6
If the defensive and offense fronts were stronger, this team could finish with a .500 record, but those are two big ifs. However, the Pirates should be good enough to win at least four games with Manatee and Venice off their schedule. The best thing about this football program is that the head coach is returning. When Curt Bradley took over the team last summer he was the program's fourth head coach in six years. He never had a fair chance to install his system and had to motivate kids who lost trust in the staff because of all the coaching changes. Things are different now after last season's 1-9 carnage that ended with a victory in the last game of the season. The first thing Bradley did was put his players on a weight training program and the team is stronger physically and mentally. With returning quarterback Dusty Peebles, running backs Carlos Crawford and Caleb Ford and a talented receiving corps the Pirates no longer preside over an anemic offense. If the defense can play respectable this team is capable of winning half its games, which would mark significant progress.
Curt Bradley 2nd year:
By the numbers
5: Times the Pirates were shut out last season
4: Head coaches Braden River has employed in the past seven seasons
2: Times the Pirates scored in double figures last season
3: Braden River's consecutive losses to archrival Lakewood Ranch.
Aug. 30 NORTH FORT MYERS
Sept. 6 at Port Charlotte
Sept. 13 at Southeast
Sept. 20 LAKEWOOD RANCH*
Sept. 27 BOOKER
Oct. 4 at Sarasota*
Oct. 11 BAYSHORE
Oct. 25 NORTH PORT*
Nov. 1 at Palmetto*
Nov. 8 at Arcadia DeSoto
All games at 7:30 p.m.
HOME GAMES IN CAPS
*Class 7A-District 10 game
Game to watch: Sept. 20 vs. Lakewood Ranch
It's always the biggest game for Braden River, but now that the two teams are in the same district there is even more on the line. A win here could give Pirates a huge confidence boost.
2012 RECORD; 1-9, 0-3 7A-10
at Lakewood Ranch L, 21-7
NORTH PORT L, 42-0
at Palmetto L, 40-0
RIVERVIEW L, 29-6
PORT CHARLOTTE L, 29-14
MANATEE L, 56-0
at Bayshore L, 35-0
at Sarasota L, 28-0
at Venice L, 42-7
PALMETTO RIDGE W, 28-7