High School Sports

Spring football begins Monday, now featuring eighth-graders

There have been plenty of years where Braden River High School hasn't had the numbers to field a junior varsity football team.

When the Pirates suffered through growing pains during Curt Bradley's early tenure as head coach, numbers were always an issue. The program's culture and history were spotty.

BRHS distributed equipment last week and there was a new segment of the Braden River population Bradley made a point to reach out to: eighth-graders. A new FHSAA rule this spring lets eighth-graders participate in spring workouts.

"We kind of jumped on the opportunity," Bradley said. "Getting a high school team ready to play a freshman football game in two weeks in August -- that's a tough start. (This way) we get the kids involved in the program and other kids they'll be going to high school with."

Spring practice begins across the region slightly after 3 p.m. on Monday as freshmen, sophomores and juniors hit the practice fields. An hour or so later, eighth-graders from middle schools across Manatee County will be able to take part in separate practices conducted by the high school coaching staff at the high schools, giving teams a chance to acclimate incoming freshmen to the program.

The practices will be limited, not only by the rules put in place but also by the natural logistics of middle-school students making their way to their respective high schools for afternoons of practice and workouts.

For instance, the rules forbid eighth-graders from participating in the same practice sessions or from having any physical contact with the players already in high school.

The eighth-graders can only practice with the high school team in their district, so those who plan on taking advantage of the county's school-choice policies or the state's new relaxed transfer rules cannot work out with the team they plan on playing for in the fall.

In addition, Palmetto head coach

Dave Marino has heard from a number of families that simply transporting students from the middle schools to the high school is an issue. He isn't sure how many middle-school students will be at the Tigers' practices.

"Logistically, it's tough," Marino said. "I don't want them to feel like if they cannot participate in spring practice then they're not welcome to be a part of our program. We're still looking forward to the summer when ride issues aren't as much of a problem."

The Pirates had 38 eighth-graders at its equipment distribution, and Bradley expects his numbers to be in the 40s. It will not be the entire anticipated freshman team roster, but it's enough to get an idea of where the team should stand come fall.

And, that is what coaches see as the benefit of the new rule. Eighth-graders can't play in the spring game, so there's no concern about actually getting them ready to play in the short term. Instead, the 20 practices each team has from Monday until May 31 will give coaches and player a better handle on the program.

"We'll get them acclimated to a workout routine in the offseason, this summer," Marino said. "We'll teach them our offensive and defensive terminology, just basic technique. Basic fundamentals. That's all we're looking to accomplish."

David Wilson, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 941-745-7057 or on Twitter @DBWilson2.