Scattered around the grassy field in the shadows of Balvanz Stadium, Bayshore High’s football team isn’t spending this Friday practice running contact drills.
Instead, the Bruins are participating in “speed ball,” which is a game involving throwing a football that’s designed to work on conditioning.
“Not one kid had a cramp, not one kid went to the trainer, not one kid wanted water,” Bayshore head coach John Biezuns said. “And I said, ‘Guys, we just conditioned for 40 straight minutes. You were running up and down the field for 40 minutes and no one complained. If we just add eight more minutes, that’s a football game.’”
Biezuns was hired in March 2016 after he served as Port St. Lucie’s offensive coordinator. That came after building Southwest (Minneapolis, Minn.) High’s program, which won its first playoff game in history during his tenure.
The challenge at Bayshore is turning the Bruins from a struggling program into a perennial contender.
To do that, Biezuns’ first season was the blueprint phase: seeing what he has and what he didn’t have.
Biezuns’ second season is the construction phase: developing a program that high school players will crave to play at.
To help that, Biezuns and the team’s captains got together in the offseason to focus on a glaring issue the Bruins had in 2016: the schedule.
Playing teams like Port Charlotte, Braden River, Palmetto and Clearwater Central Catholic didn’t set Bayshore up for a good start.
0Points Bayshore scored in its first four games in 2016.
“That’s our first four,” Biezuns said. “We looked at their record, and their like 56-5. So good gravy.”
A softer schedule was in order, and just in time for the Florida High School Athletic Association’s playoff system overhaul.
Seeing county behemoths like Manatee, Braden River and Palmetto won’t be a stumbling block for the Bruins anytime soon.
Now Biezuns is zeroing in on increasing participation numbers — his goal is 60-70 compared to the 44 he had last season — within the program. That means getting students that roam the hallways at Bayshore to play football.
For that to happen, a winning product is essential.
That makes this spring paramount. The Bruins play Dunedin, a program with a similar profile to Bayshore. The Falcons went winless the past two seasons, and have just three wins in the last four years.
“If we can put a good showing and win the game, and maybe win the game going away,” said Biezuns, “maybe a kid that’s across the street and thinking about going to Southeast and Palmetto or whatever school, they kind of have a second thought and go, ‘Well Bayshore, maybe they’re getting their stuff together.’”
Michael Franks and Miguel Rodriguez are two rising seniors that have stuck with the Bruins through some lean years. Bayshore hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005, and the Bruins haven’t had a winning record or won a playoff game since 2003.
Bayshore’s last winning season was in 2003.
But the two are determined to leave Bayshore on a successful path.
“We just want to leave it better than last season,” Rodriguez said.
Added Franks: “I’m coming into this year like I want to change the whole thing around. That’s what I’ve been wanting to do all four years, and that’s why I stayed.”
Lending a helping hand is the return of Jamaal Sanders to the coaching staff after a hiatus. He’s back to coach defensive backs, while Dan Widner came down from New Jersey to become the team’s offensive coordinator.
After just a few months, Widner heard the murmurs through the hallways at Bayshore and issued a challenge to his players following a spring practice.
“He said ‘I’m sick and tired of walking the halls and hearing you guys suck, you’re going to lose, why should I play when you don’t win,’” Biezuns said. “... His message to the players was, ‘You guys have to rally around and change the culture.’”
Saturday, May 13
St. Petersburg Dixie Hollins at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 18
Avon Park at Cardinal Mooney, 6:30 p.m.
Out-of-Door Academy at Fort Myers Evangelical Christian, 7 p.m.
Clermont East Ridge at IMG Academy (National), 7 p.m.
Sarasota Booker at Lakewood Ranch, 7 p.m.
Southeast at North Port, 7 p.m.
St. Petersburg Northeast at Palmetto, TBD
Friday, May 19
Bayshore at Dunedin, 7:30 p.m.
St. Petersburg Lakewood at Braden River, 7 p.m.
Manatee at Lakeland Lake Gibson, 7:30 p.m.
Note: Bradenton Christian is not playing a spring game this year.