BRADENTON -- “ONTO FORT LAUDERDALE!”
Clad in a red warmup suit and his white No. 2 Manatee Hurricanes jersey, Taren Cotton shouted the words outside the Wheeler Leeth Building just before noon.
“ONTO FORT LAUDERDALE!” more red clad teammates chanted as Coach Joe Kinnan’s football team tossed equipment bags onto two charter buses that were idling on 32nd Street West.
Onto Fort Lauderdale, indeed.
A four-hour drive awaited the Hurricanes.
St. Thomas Aquinas awaited them, too.
Both 13-0 teams collide tonight at 7:30 p.m. in one Class 5A state semifinal at Brian Piccolo Stadium.
Lakeland plays at Tampa Plant, the defending Class 5A state champion, in the other semifinal.
As sendoffs go, the Hurricanes’ departure was definitely low key.
Except for the 60-plus players, of course.
They were pumped.
“They’re feeling good, they’re loose and ready to go,” Kinnan said.
“We’ve had a good week of practice. We just have to go out there, bring our A-game with us and whatever happens, happens.”
There were few people to bid the Hurricanes farewell, but that was OK, too.
Among those folks were Bill and Pou Crisp, grandparents to Hurricane safety Chase Sandberg and quarterback Cord Sandberg.
Their son, Prather, played for Kinnan in the late 1980s and know the coach’s style.
“That’s how Joe likes to do things,” the grandfather said. “He doesn’t like to do the pep rallies and all that hooplah. Just keep the kids focused.”
The Crisps would make the trip to Fort Lauderdale later.
“No question this is going to be a tough game,” he said. “Go down there and show them what Manatee football is all about about. Think they know by now.”
Crisp meant last year’s 28-20 Hurricane semifinal triumph over the nationally-ranked Raiders at Hawkins Stadium.
“Revenge is on their minds,” he said. “It should be very interesting.”
Nearby, Bradenton Police Officer Freddy Ordonez was ready to go, providing official escort for the Hurricane buses.
The low-key departure worked for him.
“I think a low profile is better,” he said. “Be the underdog, so when you win you have something to show people.”
Senior defensive tackle Drakkar Wilson agreed.
“You want to go down there, take care of business, come on home and get ready for the state championship,” he said.
Senior Justin Smith, who ducked out of a nearby portable classroom to see the team leave, had no doubt.
“This year we’re taking the title,” he said. “The title’s coming home.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.