BRADENTON -- Every Friday, just before kickoff, Cord Sandberg swears it happens.
He gets nervous.
Of course, it doesn’t last too long.
“Once the game gets started,” Sandberg said, “it goes away.”
It’s hard to picture Manatee’s junior quarterback feeling anxious in the locker room because he comes off as Mr. Mild-Mannered between the lines.
Aside from his elusiveness and accurate arm, Sandberg has displayed an unparalleled sense of poise during his two years as the Hurricanes’ quarterback, guiding the offense with a hand as cool as it is steady.
If you’re standing on Manatee’s sideline and want to know the score, don’t bother looking toward Sandberg, whose expression rarely changes during the course of a game.
“We like to call him Golden Boy -- everything he seems to do seems to be perfect,” said senior offensive lineman Garrett Waiters. “We just like to mess around with him, but he’s a great kid and a great leader. For being just a junior, he’s an outstanding player.”
Manatee will look to its Golden Boy on Friday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, where the Hurricanes meet Jacksonville First Coast for the Class 7A state championship. And while the Hurricanes are more than just the man under center -- Manatee’s defense has been stellar during the playoffs, running back Leon Allen has gobbled plenty of clock and yards and receivers such as Ryan Taylor and Anthony Lauro make fine targets -- Sandberg, who also sports a 3.9 grade-point average, has helped guide Manatee to a 25-3 record, two district titles and two regional titles in two seasons.
But if Sandberg’s greatest attributes are his arm (2,005 passing yard, 18 touchdowns and a 72.3 completion percentage) and his legs (736 rushing yards, nine touchdowns), his composure has been key, as well, whether in the huddle or in the pocket.
“He keeps all of us in line. ... He keeps us nice and composed, and our heads up,” Waiters said. “He’s able to switch gears very good, to go from getting us pumped up if we’re going for a 4th-and-1, or, ‘Everyone keep your head straight, no penalties ...’”
Manatee coach Joe Kinnan called Sandberg a “football brat,” a kid who grew up a few doors down from Manatee and whose father, Chuck, has served as one of Kinnan’s assistants for over 25 years.
It’s Chuck, Sandberg said, who is partly responsible for Cord’s demeanor.
“My dad always said to me, ‘Don’t get to high on the highs, and don’t get too low on the lows,’” Cord said. “The game, whether it’s baseball or football, I try to stay on a level playing field, because the next play is the most important play. You’re just as good as your last play -- if you throw four touchdowns or whatever, there’s no reason really to get crazy, because after a week they forget about that. What have you done for me lately?”
According to Sandberg, that’s what he likes about being a quarterback -- the game in his hands. Manatee called on him to convert a 4th-and-2 during the third quarter of last Friday’s state semifinal against Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer, and Sandberg’s 4-yard run set up a go-ahead touchdown by Antonio Agurs.
And it was Sandberg’s 21-yard run with under three minutes remaining that gave the Canes a 19-14 lead they never relinquished en route to reaching a state final for the second time in three years.
“I don’t know if he has any nicknames, but they should call him Little (Tim) Tebow,” said First Coast coach Marty Lee. “He’s unbelievable. ... He’s definitely got a football team around him, but he’s special. He’s the best quarterback we’ve faced all year, there’s no doubt about that.
“You’ve got to play assignment football against this man. He’s intelligent.”
Sandberg has also learned to cope with the spoils of success. He faces the media after every game, and spent nearly a half hour after practice Tuesday speaking to a local television station.
Then he goes home and takes calls from college coaches and recruiting writers, though he has set up a Facebook account to help deal with that.
“Honestly, it is what is. In the end, it’s still football, and when you’re on the field, everything’s completely the same,” Sandberg said. “It’s just before and after all the guys talk to you. ... When it comes down to it, you’ve got to treat it as the same thing as Pop Warner -- it should be fun. You can’t treat it like a job.”
In the midst of his final week of practice this season, Sandberg, a centerfielder for Manatee’s state final four baseball team, said he is ready for the football grind to come to a close. Of course, he didn’t feel that way last week, when the Hurricanes were hoping for one more week of preparation en route to the Florida Citrus Bowl.
And if the Canes do take down First Coast on Friday and claim their first state title in nearly 20 years, the Golden Boy probably will lose some semblance of composure during the postgame celebration.
“You don’t how much I want to win this. And not just for me, but for my teammates and all these seniors,” Cord said, “and the whole town. It’s been a while since we’ve been state champs, and I want it bad.”