High School Sports

Prep Rally | Palmetto Tigers hoping tough non-district schedule pays dividends

PALMETTO

As a postcard-worthy day faded into evening, Jack Allison, wearing his mesh No. 14 jersey, dropped back and spun one crisp spiral after another to receivers sprinting up, down and across Palmetto's practice field.

This is what October now means in Palmetto: Preparation for big games that ultimately lead to bigger ones. Since Dave Marino took over the Tigers' program prior to the 2010 season, his players haven't spent a single regular-season practice simply going through the motions.

A win Friday at Sarasota sends Palmetto to the postseason for a fifth straight year despite a 2-4 overall record. And if the Tigers get it done this season as they have the past four, then those four gnawing defeats suddenly won't gnaw as much.

They may even double as pleasant memories.

The Tigers have played a monstrous non-district schedule this season, intertwining Venice, Clearwater Countryside, St. Petersburg Lakewood and Manatee in with their Class 7A-District 10 foes.

They went 0-4 against that group, which has a combined record of 26-4. The Tigers, however, were in every game, losing by an average of a little more than six points per game.

Is playing such a grueling slate of opponents the reason Palmetto has rolled past its district opponents, North Port and Lakewood Ranch?

Well, it hasn't hurt.

"If I would have protected the ball better, we could have won a lot of those," Allison said. "So that gives us some confidence, I suppose. But we've still got to get better."

Florida prep football rewards the teams that pack schedules with thoroughbreds. Losing all your non-district games is fine so long as you win the district games. So why not make things as challenging as you can?

It seems to have worked for Palmetto, even if the results haven't been what the Tigers wanted.

"The speed, intensity, the size of these kids that we've played, it helps you because you feel more confident," Marino said. "You've been there, done that."

Consider how close Palmetto came to winning most of those games: a failed two-point conversion against Venice, two big penalties and a late missed field goal against Lakewood, special-teams snafus against Countryside.

"If we were getting blown out in those games, then that would be tougher to adopt that philosophy of playing a tougher schedule," Marino said. "The kids know the victory was in their grasp, so that's where you gain the confidence. Not only are you playing one of the tougher schedules in the state, but you're there and had the opportunity to win the games."

These are the weeks Palmetto has been preparing for: Friday night's trip to Sarasota and next week's meeting with Braden River that could decide the district champion. This is why its schedule was loaded with teams that will probably be playing deep into November or even December.

The Tigers want to be playing that late, too, and hope to see Allison spinning spirals on the practice field long after the regular season has ended.

They have done everything they can to try and make that happen.

Just check out their schedule.

John Lembo, prep sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7045. Following him on Twitter @JohnLembo1878.

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