It doesn't take Curt Bradley long to talk about the difference between this year and last.
"It's better to start the season 1-0 than 0-9," he said.
There is more to it for Bradley, who took over the Braden River football team last summer.
But that one victory means a lot.
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When Bradley inherited this program, his first goal was to get the players stronger. Right after last season ended, he had his players working out in the weight room and they haven't stopped.
"Last year, we were so far behind the 8 ball with our strength and conditioning," Bradley said. "Many of our players have made significant progress. I am not saying we are stronger than any other team, but we definitely closed the gap to where we can be more competitive on Friday night."
The Pirates also added some new faces, probably none bigger than Titus Humphrey, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back who rushed for 131 yards in the Pirates' opening-game victory over North Fort Myers two weeks ago.
Humphrey spent two years at Manatee and a year at Palmetto. He said he received a hardship waiver to transfer to Braden River, and the Pirates gave him a chance to be their running back.
"It's the position that I like the most and have natural instincts for," Humphrey said. "The other schools didn't want me as a running back, but I think it's my best position. I love having the ball in my hands, and I love scoring touchdowns. I played running back one year for the Manatee Mustangs and was their leading rusher."
Bradley sees Humphrey as a punishing runner who knows how to use his skill set and a tireless worker who gets stronger as the game progresses.
"He is a 200-pound running back who runs behind his pads, and we were able to wear them (North Fort Myers) down. He had about
70 yards in the fourth quarter. He is very skilled, has good size and good feet and good strength," Bradley said.
Humphrey grew up in Manatee County and has an appreciation of Southeast, the Pirates' opponent on Friday night. He also likes the idea of dueling it out with running back Courtney Allen, who needs 49 yards to break the school career rushing record of 2,863 yards held by Dyral McMillan.
Longtime Southeast head coach Paul Maechtle saw a big improvement in the Noles defense last Friday, but they lost for the second time in two games.
He is waiting for someone to step up and help take the load off of his prized running back.
"Courtney runs with a nasty attitude. He runs with his shoulders square, gets to the line of scrimmage quickly and is willing to get into people to make yards," Maechtle said. "He is strong and explosive enough to run away from arm tackles and has a little wiggle. When he changes direction, an arm tackle won't bring him down. We have to figure out a way to get somebody else involved and take advantage of opponents focusing on Allen."
Both teams are young and hungry. Braden River had its game against Port Charlotte rained out last week while Southeast lost 16-6 to Clearwater Countryside.
In the opener, Braden River also got a big game from another newcomer, safety Kedarius Smith, a transfer from Southeast who had two interceptions.
"There is usually a big improvement from week one to week two, and it hurt us not to play," Bradley said. "We are so young we need to play every week. We are hoping we can make that game up on October 18th with another team. Marcus Balliette (linebacker) had a big game for us with 18 tackles. Derrick Hines forced a fumble and then we had the two interceptions, which you don't normally see from a safety."
Maechtle continues to shift players around hoping to find the right combination. It looked like the Noles found the combination on defense last week, but the offense, with the exception of Allen, has struggled.
"I was disappointed that didn't see any level of improvement in our offense last week," Maechtle said. "We couldn't sustain any drives. It was a combination of things. We were not as proficient on the perimeter. We are football team that is still looking to put the right people in the right position."