For the ninth straight season, Manatee’s tradition-rich football program is playing in the playoffs.
In a season plagued with adversity, the Hurricanes battled through to secure the No. 8 seed in the Class 8A-Region 2 playoffs, which begin Friday with a trip to top seed Kissimmee Osceola.
“You want to keep the tradition alive,” first-year head coach Yusuf Shakir said. “Especially at a place like this, our tradition is what the program is based on and you always want to honor the tradition.”
The adversity started before Shakir coached his first game with the Canes.
Youth littered Manatee’s ranks, giving Shakir the youngest team he’s ever coached between stops at his alma mater, Tallahassee Lincoln, and St. Petersburg Gibbs.
Two offensive lineman, Charles Armstrong and Derek Maurice, are freshman.
Practically the entire defensive front seven was brand-new.
Still, there were upper classmen, even if it wasn’t plentiful.
Then the injury bug ripped through Manatee’s lineup, including playmaker Keyon Fordham, who became the team’s starting quarterback early into the 2017 campaign.
Fordham is expected back for Osceola, though, Shakir said.
“We just kind of see what Keyon can do as the week goes along,” Shakir said. “See what he can do and just then go from there.”
So with all the adversity that’s hit Manatee this season, what’s one more hurdle for the Hurricanes to jump?
Manatee earned the last wild-card berth into the 8A-2 playoffs when Treasure Coast lost to Palm Bay and Palmetto defeated Punta Gorda Charlotte last Friday. Treasure Coast’s playoff points average would have jumped Manatee’s with a victory, and a Palmetto loss would have dropped the Tigers a tier from Category 2 to Category 3, while simultaneously lowering Manatee’s playoff points average 0.50 points behind Lithia Newsome for the last qualifying spot in the playoffs.
The latest challenge is taking on a Kowboys team ranked fourth in the latest Associated Press 8A state football poll.
Osceola’s offense is steeped in the wing-T, which isn’t something that many teams in Florida still run.
“Your kids don’t see it that much, so you have to watch a lot of film and you’ve got to be very disciplined,” Shakir said.
But playing Osceola early is exactly what Shakir enjoys.
“If you’re trying to win a state championship, you’re going to play somebody tough,” Shakir said.
For seniors such as Sir Williams, Javarius Pollock, Josh Booker, Jeremiah Bartholow and Cedrick Waters among others, it’s the last hurrah as a Manatee Hurricane.
“When I found out, I actually teared up,” Williams, a defensive back, said. “This could be my last high school game I ever play in. With that being said, I’ve been trying to leave everything on the field this week.”
This week’s games
Manatee at Kissimmee Osceola, 7:30 p.m.
Braden River at South Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
Palmetto at Pinellas Park, 7:30 p.m.
Clearwater Superior Collegiate at IMG White, 1 p.m.
Bishop Sullivan (Virginia Beach, Va.) at IMG Blue, 7 p.m.
Jupiter Christian at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Thursday: A look at Braden River preparing for Friday’s Class 7A-Region 3 playoff opener against South Fort Myers.
Friday: A look at Palmetto preparing for Friday’s Class 7A-Region 3 playoff opener against Pinellas Park.