High School Sports

Commentary | Spring football remains popular among area coaches

Spring football is about to wind down, raising the annual question: Should we continue this?

The answer often depends on where you live, what you coach and what sport you play.

In Florida, Texas, Alabama and Georgia, spring football is a way of life, a ritual. There are 12 other states, including California, that have what would be defined as spring practice.

Football hotbed states such as Ohio. Michigan and Pennsylvania don't have spring football practice. Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer is pushing for it, but not making much headway.

The late Joe Paterno pushed for it when he was at Penn State as did former University of Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt. They failed in Pennsylvania.

Nearly all football coaches like spring football. A lot of those who coach other sports are not so fond of it.

In Florida, spring football is 20 days with 15 days of contact, including a spring game if the school chooses to do so, which nearly all do.

Some of the reasons football coaches give to continue the practice might be surprising because not all of it is about finding next season's starting quarterback.

"Is spring football necessary? No. Is it important? Yes," Lakewood Ranch head football coach Mic Koczersut says. "It gives the kids a better chance to get recruited, and it's good to have college coaches come to the high schools. In a lot of the other sports, recruiting through the high school has become almost obsolete."

Koczersut points out that in basketball and baseball, much of the recruiting is done through travel ball during the summer, when college coaches are available.

"You want the college coaches to work through the high school coach because they care about the kids and know them well and their academic situation," Koczersut says.

Though he is an advocate of spring practice, Koczersut says he would be OK without the spring game.

"After going through 20 days of practices, you know your players. The spring game is more of a reward for the players, but I am concerned about someone getting hurt," he said.

If there is one thing football coaches agree on, it's that evaluating players without the pressure of preparing for a game is a great benefit.

It has been particularly helpful this spring with Manatee, Southeast, Lakewood Ranch and Bayshore looking for a new quarterback.

Manatee head football coach John Booth took over his program last July. This was his first spring season, and he said it was important to help his team establish an identity and evaluate players.

"We are trying to establish an identity of what our team is going to be like and to identify toughness. It's been hot, and that's tough," Booth said during the spring. "We want to figure out how we can muscle through practice and what this group is going to be like. As a staff, we identify our depth chart and get some positions settled. We lost a couple of kids who were three-year starters and do we have guys who can fill those positions."

Being able to conclude spring sports before the start of spring football keeps the critics at bay. Thanks to the weather, Florida baseball and track practices start Jan. 19, and the first baseball game can be played Feb. 9th, impossible in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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