Kickoff Classic serves as
final regular season tune-up
By TONY CASTRO
Thursday night’s prep Kickoff Classic at 7 p.m. at Booster Stadium in Spring Hill serves as the tune-up for 44th season of Eagle football.
Inverness-Citrus invades Spring Hill for the first time since 2014.
The Golden Hurricanes finished 2018 at 4-6 -winning four of its last five tilts under Nate Varnadore.
Varnadore stepped down immediately after the season.
Meanwhile, SHS completed a 7-3 campaign finishing with a flourish posting wins in five of its last six games.
After six seasons at the helm, Head Coach Mike Garofano preps for his seventh season at 41-20 (67 percent) lifetime.
Garofano is 1-2 lifetime against ’Canes splitting games in 2013 and losing on the last snap of regulation on an interception in 2014, 6-0.
SHS, which has posted five winning seasons in Garofano’s six years, are searching for its first playoff appearance since 2013.
Offense: Six starters back
Springstead is expected suit up as many as 37 players against Citrus County crew.
In a game where there will be no live rush on special teams, the teams have agreed to play both of its junior varsity squads in the fourth quarter.
An ankle injury will sideline SHS senior outside linebacker Mackenxo Maysonet.
The 6-foot-1 Maysonet, a returning All-County defender with 92 tackles in 2018, tweaked his ankle a couple weeks ago.
As a precaution, he’s sitting this one out, but Garofano made it clear that if it were a regular season game Maysonet would be playing.
Instead, he’s bought an extra week to heal.
That’s the lone injury for the hosts.
SHS is expected to return six starters on offense.
2018 concluded with 6-foot-2 quarterback Max O’Rourke at the helm.
He’ll start against Golden Hurricanes, but sophomore Nick Centola is also expected see action under center.
In the deep backfield, the Eagles will start senior Anthony Alexis at fullback, while junior Jaylen Thompson gets the start at slot back.
As many as 10 different players may tote the rock for the hosts including Jordan Smith.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Alexis missed all of last season after breaking his leg in the kickoff classic at Hudson.
He’s coming off a fine track and field campaign last spring.
O’Rourke clicked on 27-of-49 passes for 280 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions.
He rushed 18 times for 101 yards last fall as the understudy behind Nathan Sims.
O’Rourke will get some opportunities to throw the ball behind an offensive line that averages 284 pounds per player.
SHS returns three starters up front including 332-pound left guard Colby McMillan, 352=pound left tackle Logan Crossley.
McMillan, who also lifts weights, is a returning All-County offensive lineman.
Left tackle Scott Lydting at 275 pounds is also back.
He’ll join first-year center Kyle Kennedy and right guard Robert Carroll up front.
Gannon Lanning is expected to see some time up front as well.
At game time, the tight end position has not been sealed up. it’s been a battle between Anthony DiGiacomo and Paxton Chancey
SHS will start two new receivers with sophomore Adonis Houston and senior David Battle.
Houston has the best hands on the team while 6-foot-4 Battle is a talented basketball player converting to the gridiron.
Neither Houston nor Battle played at the varsity level last season.
Garofano, whose team averaged 26 ppg last fall, likes the potential.
“Max (O’Rourke) will get his feet wet, but I don’t know how much he’ll play,” noted Garofano. “Centola has worked hard to get some snaps in this game, too.”
The Eagles’ depth will give opposition fits.
Garofano expects maybe two players to see action on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
“We’ve got a lot of bodies to throw at a defense,” said Garofano. “Adrian will get his carries at fullback. We won‘t have one guy rushing the ball 350 times this season; I can tell you that.”
The offensive unit’s chemistry begins up front in the trenches.
“This might be the biggest O-line we’ve ever had,” said Garofano. “This group has the tools in the tool box. As a group, they need to get nasty. That’s why it’s so important to start the season on the right foot.“
Cabrera paces the defense
The county’s returning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Adrian Cabrera is seeking an unheralded feat.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Cabrera recoded 169 tackles in 10 games last fall, highlighted by 34 tackles for a loss.
Just his presence raises his unit’s expectations.
“Hitting is contagious,” explained Garofano. “It could be a nice quiet day and then Cabrera will de-cleat somebody and that sets everyone on fire. Some times that’s all it takes. He shows up every day for work. He sets the tone for the entire team. He‘s our spiritual leader.”
SHS, which permitted 116 points last fall, is thin at outside linebacker and in the secondary.
For now, Anthony Alexis will also fill in at safety.
After giving up 29 points in a spring classic loss to Dunnellon, Garofano explained, “We‘ve got to get more speed on defense and we‘ve got to rally to the football.
“…When we played Dunnellon, it didn‘t start well. We couldn‘t get off the field. Compounding matters, we weren‘t finishing drives offensively.”
On what Garofano wants to see Thursday against Citrus, “I want to see somebody hit somebody in the mouth. We were on our heels in the spring. We weren’t attacking.
“We have some good depth in the secondary, but we’ve got to do a better job of tackling than we did in the spring,” he said.
Along the defensive line, look for Kyle Curl at nose guard and Nicholas Billingsly and Robert Carroll at defensive tackles.
Newcomer Owen Crouch will also see plenty of playing time.
At inside linebacker, Cabrera and Albert “Fabio” Rodriguez and Alex Peralta will start.
At cornerback, Robert Burgos and Sean Fribbley will start while Logan Blevens, Anthony Alexis and Jordan Smith and Angel Peralta will rotate in the safety positions.
On special teams, O’Rourke will do the punting and handle the place kicking for the Eagles. He’s also the team’s best long snapper.
On what Garofano expects from CHS, “We’re not preparing one specific person or back. We know Citrus has a good receiver and shifty back.
“They play a hard-nosed, physical brand of football. That’s why we’re playing them. We want a good test before the regular season begins,” noted Garofano.