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Braden River prepares for first out-of-state opponent with Disney trip

Braden River faces first out of state football opponent in Disney trip

The Braden River Pirates play Colorado's Chatfield High at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
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The Braden River Pirates play Colorado's Chatfield High at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Brendan Bengtsson first competed at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista two years ago.

He went again over the summer.

Both times were as a wrestler.

Now the Braden River High senior is returning to the Central Florida sports complex in his final football season with the Pirates.

Braden River plays Chatfield High from Littleton, Colo., to open the 2017 regular season at 6 p.m. Thursday.

“It’s going to be a big crowd,” Bengtsson said. “People are going to come just to see, because it’s a Disney game.”

Pirates head coach Curt Bradley turned Braden River from a one-win team in his inaugural 2012 season to a playoff fixture the past few seasons.

That winning consistency, in conjunction with the Florida High School Athletic Association’s new playoff format, led Braden River to beef up its schedule.

One team Bradley looked to add was Tarpon Springs East Lake, a team that eliminated the Pirates from the 2014 playoffs.

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Brendan Bengtsson, center, anchors the Braden River offensive line. Zack Wittman zwittman@bradenton.com

But Bradley and East Lake head coach Bob Hudson, whom Bradley said he has developed a friendly relationship with, couldn’t nail down a date that worked for both. So Hudson helped Bradley get in contact with KSA Events, the organizer for Thursday’s game at Disney.

Bradley chose the opening weekend, and KSA paired the Pirates with Chatfield, a school similar to Braden River in record and enrollment numbers.

“I told (Hudson) we were trying to do something at Disney,” Bradley said. “He said he had done it in the past. ... So it’s a neat experience.”

The game presents a historic moment for the Braden River program. Chatfield, a state semifinalist in Colorado’s second-largest classification (4A) in 2016, is the first out-of-state opponent Braden River has ever faced.

We’re making a name for ourselves. And I’m glad for it, because this team’s on the come up and has been on the come up and we’re here to stay.

Braden River High senior Brendan Bengtsson

“We’re excited to see that brand of football,” Bradley said. “They’re a physical team. Big team. So it will be a challenge for us as far as our speed versus their power.”

The Pirates possess that speed on offense with running back Deshaun Fenwick, a University of South Carolina commit, and junior wide receiver/running back Knowledge McDaniel, as well as several other options.

Bengtsson, who played on the Braden River team that faced national power Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the Class 7A state semifinals in 2015 and led an inexperienced offensive line last season, is back to help create the holes and provide pass protection for quarterback Bryan Gagg alongside a returning crop of players on the offensive line.

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Expectations are high as Braden River prepares for Thursday night’s season opener. Zack Wittman zwittman@bradenton.com

Bengtsson understands the importance of how far the program has come, too.

“It’s a big thing. No one in our school has ever done it,” he said about playing an out-of-state opponent. “We’re making a name for ourselves. And I’m glad for it, because this team is on the come up and has been on the come up and we’re here to stay.”

Not only is the varsity playing Thursday, but the junior varsity and freshman teams are also playing games on Friday and Saturday to round out the weekend slate.

The next step for the Pirates is going out of state. Bradley said that was discussed for this season, but other priorities — such as the new $20,000 locker room — took precedent.

Getting booster club and sponsorship support to help finance a future out-of-state trip is on the agenda for a program that continues to look to take the next step.

This Thursday’s trip, though, did not cost Braden River anything — KSA didn’t charge the school, Bradley said.

“The program is growing,” Bradley said. “We’re at 150 kids now. That’s 150 sets of equipment and uniforms, so that budget gets depleted pretty quickly.”

High school score reports

Coaches, please e-mail results from your team’s games, along with top players and key statistics, to sports@bradenton.com. Each day’s prep roundup can be found the following morning at bradenton.com/sports/high-school.

Week 1 schedule

Thursday’s game

Chatfield (Littleton, Colo.) vs. Braden River, 6 p.m. (at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, Lake Buena Vista)

Friday’s games

Cardinal Mooney at Fort Myers Bishop Verot, 7 p.m.

Brooksville Nature Coast at IMG White, 7 p.m.

Out-of-Door Academy at Fort Myers Canterbury, 7 p.m.

Windermere Prep at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.

Inverness Citrus at Bayshore, 7:30 p.m.

Bradenton Christian at Fort Myers Southwest Florida Christian Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Lakewood Ranch at Cape Coral Ida Baker, 7:30 p.m.

Lakeland at Manatee, 7:30 p.m.

Palmetto at Southeast, 7:30 p.m.

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