High School Sports

Prep football | Braden River focused on future after recording first undefeated regular season

EAST MANATEE -- When Curt Bradley arrived as Braden River's head coach in 2012, he had a vision for how to make the program better.

A 1-9 inaugural season dampened that view and the mood on the East Manatee campus, but the Pirates didn't quit on their new coach.

Instead, they bought in by hitting the weight room and going through the offseason program harder and faster than before.

The turnaround culminated with an undefeated regular season, district championship and a playoff victory last fall.

Now the Pirates are hungry for more.

"These kids don't miss days in the weight room," Bradley said. "They don't miss days working out, and they're the reason this thing turned around."

Bradley and his staff brought stability to a program that saw him become the fourth head coach in the six-year history of varsity football.

"I was taught it's not how it starts, but how it finishes," said Bradley about that ominous first year. "These kids do a good job of rising to the occasion year after year."

This season will feature several key contributors from last fall's banner campaign, including quarterback Jacob Huesman, defensive end Dylan Tyson, running back Raymond Thomas, running back Jaylin Austin and several others on both sides of the ball.

"It's easy to get complacent all the way from top to bottom when you have a good year like that, and we are going to rely a lot on the seniors that have seen the bottom and have seen the top, kind of the way to the top," Bradley said. "They don't ever want to go back to that place. They're just trying to build to the future. Fortunately, we're going to rely on them."

Back in 2012, it wasn't a good time to be a Pirate, even on campus.

"It was horrible," said Tyson, a rising senior. "You have everybody at school saying how bad the football team is. If there's one sport that everybody knows about, it's football. ... I would just say it was the offseason workouts. Everybody bought in. Everybody's seen how far the program's went since then."

Last year, Thomas racked up 17 touchdowns and returns as a rising junior. That playmaking threat, along with the work up front on the offensive line, also enabled Huesman to deliver a stellar season. The rising senior virtually came out of nowhere to earn first-team Herald All-Area honors. He threw for 1,946 yards with 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Those statistics turned into 11 consecutive victories for Braden River, before the Pirates fell to Tarpon Springs East Lake in a regional quarterfinal.

That successful campaign has brought other changes to the Pirates' spring workouts: college scouts.

Just in Tuesday's practice, recruiters from Indiana State, Marshall, Samford and Georgia Southern spent time checking in on Braden River players.

Offensive lineman Alex Salguero received offers from Marshall and Mercer, and Huesman received an offer from Samford.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald