High School Football

Manatee High football fans should temper expectations this season

Having won a state championship while at Tallahassee Lincoln, new Manatee head coach Yusuf Shakir is well-versed in leading a program that enters every season with lofty expecations.
Having won a state championship while at Tallahassee Lincoln, new Manatee head coach Yusuf Shakir is well-versed in leading a program that enters every season with lofty expecations. ttompkins@bradenton.com

Welcome to Manatee County high school football, Yusuf Shakir and Dan Fort.

The two begin a new era for Manatee High and Bradenton Christian, respectively, on Friday with preseason Kickoff Classic games.

The stakes are a bit different for each.

Fort is taking over a program that earned its first playoff berth last season in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference.

Shakir became the head coach at traditional state power Manatee a week after the spring games.

The game against Seffner Armwood, airing on Spectrum Sports for those who don’t want to make the trip to Hillsborough County, doesn’t count in the standings.

But to Hurricane Nation, a rabid fan base that expects victories on a routine basis, the game is going to get judged, especially when thrown together with a tough three-game opening stretch.

And guess what? It’s a bit premature.

Shakir said this Manatee team might be the youngest high school team he’s ever coached.

So Hurricanes fans, who are results-oriented like most fans, need to temper expectations, especially to begin the 2017 season.

Shakir is a solid motivator and said the key to every season is being good in November and December, not August and September.

He has skill players such as Sir Williams, Josh Booker, Keyon Fordham, Cedrick Waters and Javarius Pollock, for example.

The defense should be better and the offense will look different than the recent past.

The trenches, on both sides, are going to be key, like every team, to overall success on Friday nights this fall.

That area is always a work in progress for young teams.

The first test is Friday, though, and there’s a learning curve fans should expect.

Armwood followed by Lakeland in Week 1, Palmetto in Week 2 and the county bragging rights game with Braden River in Week 3 is a ridiculous gauntlet to get through unscathed.

So don’t judge right away, even if it’s a slow start.

This isn’t the Howie DeCristofaro era, which most Canes fans view as a disastrous experiment. Shakir has embraced Manatee’s tradition, reconnecting with that storied past in his coaching staff. And Shakir has a state championship on his resume.

Talking to strength coach Rich Lansky and special teams coach Dennis Stallard, Shakir wanted to tap the alumni base for some staff decisions.

So, enter Thor Miller, who just wrapped his McNeese State playing career, to lead the junior varsity squad. Brion Carnes has returned to coach the quarterbacks.

Tracey Sanders, who quarterbacked Manatee’s first state championship team in 1983, also has returned.

“That’s something you’ve always got to do,” Shakir said. “That’s something that I did at Lincoln in bringing back ex-players. I was an ex-player there. When I was at Gibbs (in St. Petersburg), I brought back ex-players. (Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB) Shaun King was my first quarterbacks coach. He’s a graduate of Gibbs. ... That’s how my old high school coach really built Lincoln up. He always believed in that you get people that you can trust and people who value the program.”

Shakir is also equipped to handle the pressure of following, twice removed, a legendary head coach. He did it at his alma mater, Tallahassee Lincoln, in taking over the Trojans four years after two-time state champion coach David Wilson left.

And he’s doing it again with Manatee just a few years after Canes legend Joe Kinnan resigned.

Just give it time, Cane Nation.

Patience is a virtue.