After Veteran skipper Bill Browning retired,
defensive coordinator Matt Smith is sitting out 2019.
By TONY CASTRO
F.W. Springstead’s 44th season of varsity football begins Friday night 7:30 p.m. with always-tough Sunlake rolling into Booster Stadium.
The Eagles. coming off a 7-3 campaign in 2018, were flooded out last week, and were not able to set foot on to its turf for its annual pre=season-classic against Inverness-Citrus.
Meanwhile, the Land O’ Lakes=based Seahawks fell to down-the-street rival River Ridge, 27-6.
The ’Hawks invade Spring Hill with a huge 54-member roster and new some wrinkles in tow.
The off-season was busy in East Pasco County as Bill Browning – the school’s original mentor from 2007 stepped down after the Seahawks finished 4-6.
Browning guided SHS’ fortunes from 1987-1995.
After taking over at Hernando High in 1996, Browning paced the sideline Ines in Brooksville through 2003.
He groomed his understudy – Matt Smith – to replace him.
Smith, who was also serving as the head wrestling coach and athletic director at the time, led the Purple and & Gold for three seasons.
Both became disenchanted with the situation in Brooksville.
When Sunlake opened its doors, Browning hired Smith as his first assistant.
After posting 0-10, 1-9 and 4-6 slates, Browning – along with assistance from Smith – helped build the foundation of success at Sunlake.
But when Browning recently retired, Smith was bypassed as the lead coaching candidate and Trey Burdick was hired.
This fall for the first time in 40 years, Smith isn’t coaching football and is sitting out the season weighing his options. He remains employed at Sunlake and serves as the school’s widely successful weightlifting coach.
Friday marks the ninth meeting between both programs.
Springstead leads the series 5-3 as seventh-year skipper Mike Garofano stands 4-2 lifetime against the ’Hawks.
The Eagles feel fortunate to have beaten the Seahawks last fall in Land O’ Lakes, 12-7.
It took a late second-half flurry by back-up fullback Adrian Cabrera and a goal line defensive stand to halt the Seahawks.
The biggest asset for the Eagles has been Mother Nature.
After three straight days of rain, last week’s efforts to play fell short.
The field, according to Coach Garofano was “horrible”.
Fortunately both the SHS and the CHS caching staffs opted noted to risk injury in a meaningless game.
After the sun broke out and heated the field all week, Booster Stadium is ready to open the season.
Coach Garofano, who will counter with a 37=-member roster, isn’t extremely deep.
“Advantage will go to Sunlake for playing a good River Ridge team last week. That field wasn’t in good shape either, but they got it in.
“…I would have loved to play on a good field, but that wasn’t the case. We really haven’t hit anybody since the Dunnellon game (pre-season spring classic).”
Sunlake is expecting to start an inexperienced quarterback against the Eagles.
He’s a dual threat to run it or throw it.
River Ridge did a terrific job – despite the slippery game conditions – of handling the football and being able to blend in its passing game and running attack.
Sunlake, which typically has several stand out athletes, is expected to test Springstead’s mettle.
The Eagles will counter with two returning starters along its O-line including 352-pound Logan Crossley and 332-pound Colby McMillan.
The Eagle backfield will utilize as many as different 10 ball carriers.
Senior fullback Anthony Alexis, who broke his leg in last year’s fall classic, will start alongside 6-foot-2 quarterback Max O’ Rourke.
Look for junior Jaylen Thompson to start at slot back while the Eagles utilize as many as three different halfbacks to compliment the backfield.
O’Rourke will have some aerial targets in newcomers 6-foot-5 David Battle and Adonis Houston.
Houston has been the talk of the pre-season. All he does is catch everything near him. He’s a player who says every little.
The tight end position is still wide open with no definite starter at game time.
When the Eagles switch to special teams, O’Rourke simply drops back into punt formation. He’ll handle all the punts
and kickoff assignments.
The long snapper is Kyle Kennedy.
The extra point holder on kicks is free safety Logan Blevens.
On defense, Coach Garofano was not happy when the Eagles were trampled in Dunnellon by the Tigers.
“We hit no nobody. We were on our heels the entire game. It just wasn’t Eagle football,“ explained Garofano. He yearns to see a return of the Red Tide defense from 2013.
“Coming into thus game, I really want to see us play physical football. That’s what Sunlake has been all about for all these years with Browning and Matt there.
“We need to return to playing that style of ball,“ stressed Garofano. “The last few years, we haven’t created as many opportunities as we used to.”
On what Garofano expects from Sunlake, “They’ll line up in the shotgun, but they’re more of a zone-read team. Their quarterback can scoot. He’s about 5-foot-8 and can throw it. They’ll try to spread us out and run it probably 70-30.
“They’ve got some solid backs. They’re not the biggest guys in town. I was impressed with how well their defensive line and linebackers got up field. That Mike linebacker is all over the field.
“…Sunlake has a good combination of players. They’re typically fundamentally sound. We’ve got to wrap them up and drop ’em. Tackling is one of biggest question marks we’ve got. Because we didn’t really do that in practice.”
On what would help his team get off to great terrific start, “If we could take the opening kickoff and and go down the field and score = that would be a shot in the arm for our guys,“ noted Garofano.
“I’m like the guys, I’m anxious to see what exactly we have,“ expressed Garofano. “You find that out once you’ve been hit the mouth,”
“I’ve got an idea of what we have, but you have to see the whole picture under game conditions to see where we’re at, ” added Garofano. “If nothing else, I‘d like to see us tackle tomorrow and play physical football.
“He have a saying here, we‘d rather be the hammer than the nail tomorrow.”
On the injury front, SHS reports no serious injuries.
Senior outside linebacker Mackenxo Maysonet, who tweaked his ankle a couple weeks ago, is 100 percent.