BRADENTON -- John Warren sat down with his seniors in March to ask about their goals.
Hired in January to replace the legendary Paul Maechtle as Southeast's new football coach, Warren figured winning a district championship would be No. 1 on his players' list.
He figured wrong.
"We want to beat Manatee," was what they told him.
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That hasn't happened since 2006. But "Reviving the Rivalry" was the topic for Tuesday's luncheon at the Manatee Performing Arts Center sponsored by the Bradenton Kiwanis Club. Warren and Manatee head coach John Booth addressed the crowd before taking a handful of questions from the audience during the 45-minute program.
It's an interesting season for the Seminoles and Hurricanes, who are embarking on new eras. Manatee's Joe Kinnan, who won 290 games and five state titles, announced in June he was taking a medical leave of absence and officially retired from the school district in August. He was replaced by Booth, a 2000 Manatee grad, over the summer. Maechtle won 283 games and a pair of championships before retiring at the end of last season.
When the Canes and Noles meet Sept. 26 at John Kiker Memorial Stadium, they'll be doing so without either Kinnan or Maechtle in charge for the first time since 1980.
"Growing up, we always knew what that game meant and we know that rivalry," Booth said, "and you have to win that game. We're looking forward to getting that game back to the level it once was."
Southeast led the 2010 meeting 24-7 at halftime before the Hurricanes roared back to a 31-24 win. It has been all Manatee since; the Canes have won the past three games by a combined 143 points.
Part of the disparity can be pinned on size. Manatee competes in Class 8A, the largest classification in the Florida High School Athletic Association and home to schools with a student population of at least 2,243.
Southeast is a 5A school, a classification in which the enrollment tops out at 1,573.
Warren, whose team takes an 0-3 mark into Friday's Class 5A-District 13 opener against Bayshore, said his biggest mission is to sell the program to not only Southeast's students, but their families as well.
"We've just got to build it," Warren said after the luncheon. "We are really selling our product ... to every parent we talk to, make sure we sell it and make sure those kids stay.
"All the kids we get, we've got to keep them. We've got to recruit the hallways even better inside our school, getting the big kids who used to play football and not think anything of it now go and play video games. We've got to make it fun for those kids to come on out and be part of something special."
Despite the rocky start, Warren knows a win over the Bruins on Friday would be crucial, especially because it would make Southeast 1-0 in district play. The top two teams in each district make the playoffs.
"We're 0-3 right now, so every game is gigantic for us," Warren said. "We have to demand a 1-0 start in our district."
Booth, whose team is 2-1 following Friday's impressive win over a Naples team that entered last week ranked fourth in the state in Class 6A, is pleased with how the Hurricanes have bounced back from their season-opening loss to Ware County, Ga., which snapped Manatee's 27-game regular-season winning streak.
"What a great learning experience for our team, which is a young team," said Booth, whose Canes have just one returning starter on offense. "We learned a lot about the heart of this team and how much they're willing to work."
Linked by the timing of their hiring, Booth and Warren are now poised to take the area's, and one of the state's, richest rivalries into a new age.
"Just getting to know Coach Warren, it isn't hard to see that he is going to get that program turned around," Booth said. "He has a great heart for kids."