Alan Dell

Commentary | Playing quarterback for the Manatee Hurricanes takes a special person

It’s been nearly three decades since Tracy Sanders quarterbacked Manatee High to its first state football title.

A lot has happened since he directed the offense in a 27-21 victory over Miami Southridge that capped a 14-0 season in 1983.

For the most part, players are bigger and faster thanks to more sophisticated training, and social media have invaded what was considered sacred territory with reports of high school players tweeting or texting from the sidelines.

Yet the one thing that hasn’t changed much is how you judge quarterbacks, says Sanders, who had a successful career as a defensive back at Florida State and in the Arena Football League.

It’s why he likes Manatee’s chances in the Class 7A state championship game Friday -- and why he is such a Tim Tebow fan. Those two thoughts might not seem related, but Sanders, who coaches cornerbacks for Manatee, sees a connection between the Denver Broncos quarterback and junior Cord Sandberg, the Canes’ signal caller.

“There is more to the position than just being able to throw,” says Sanders. “At this point (in the season) the quarterback has to realize he is not in it by himself. You have teammates around you to help get the job done. You execute the offense as best as you can and encourage everyone around you to play at the highest level.”

Sandberg is the sixth quarterback to take Manatee to a state title game.

Carl May came off the bench after four games to start for the 1985 state title team and Antwonne Newsome was behind center for the 1989 state champs.

As a junior, Willie Taggart quarterbacked Manatee to the ’92 state title and got the Canes to the 1993 championship game before losing a Wild West shootout 69-36 to Southridge.

Brion Carnes lost in the 2009 title game to Tampa Plant.

“They are all different. Cord is pretty good. He is very cerebral,” says Canes head coach Joe Kinnan, the architect of all those state final appearances. “His dad has been coaching with me since 1986 and he grew up with this program. He also has a 3.9 GPA.”

Sanders started only one year at quarterback, but put up impressive numbers in Kinnan’s option-style offense, running for 938 yards and passing for 1,175 yards with 11 touchdown passes and 15 rushing touchdowns.

Sanders says Sandberg is the most natural quarterback of all the signal callers to guide Manatee to a state title game.

“We ran the option when I played and had a lot of good running backs. I was a running back playing quarterback,” Sanders says. “Cord is more of a pure passer. I could’ve played receiver or running back. Cord is a quarterback.

“The best thing about him is that he doesn’t get rattled. When something doesn’t work and others are seemingly falling apart, he is the leader they look at, and he is always composed. It puts the other guys at ease.”

That brings Sanders back to his feelings about Tebow.

“They need to stop doubting that guy.” Sanders says. “Every week someone always finds something to complain about. He answers all of them and proven he is a winner, but some people still complain. There is so much more that goes into being a good quarterback. You have to lead and inspire.”

Sanders might add a little luck never hurts. If it wasn’t for a touch of good fortune, he might not be remembered as the guy who led Kinnan to his first state title.

In the 1983 title game, Manatee was trailing 21-19 in the fourth quarter and had the ball on the Southridge 5. Sanders fumbled the snap and knelt down to get the ball, but the line judge awarded the ball to Southridge, saying one of its players got it first.

The head referee over-ruled the line judge and said Sanders had the ball when his knee was down. Two plays later, he scored what proved to be the winning touchdown.

But luck doesn’t always go your way.

When Southridge beat Manatee in 1993, the Dade County school returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and blocked a kick that resulted in another touchdown.

In the Canes’ loss to Plant in 2009, Kinnan says circumstances just caught up with his team.

“The week before we beat defending national champions St. Thomas Aquinas and ended their 39-game winning streak and that should’ve been the state final,” Kinnan says.

“But we had to go back and practice and be ready for a team we had beaten in the (preseason) Kickoff Classic. Psychologically it took our kids until the second half to realize -- hey -- we needed to play and then we just ran out of time.”

The bottom line is luck never hurts, but the right person at quarterback is not a bad thing to have.

Alan Dell, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.