It didn’t hit him until 45 days ago.
As he and his teammates stood around the weight room counting down the days until the first football game of the season, Braden River senior linebacker Marcus Balliette took a step back.
The realization finally began to set in. This was it.
After four years of sweat, hard work and dedication, his final high school football season was nearly upon him.
It’s been a whirlwind career for the Pirates’ defensive star, who is one of only a handful of seniors who have been a part of the Braden River football team since the beginning.
But, there was never a point when Balliette, who still remembers his first day of freshman football practice, thought about walking away.
“During middle school, someone once told me you don’t have to go to a star high school to be a star,” Balliette says. “You can stand out at a lower level.
“We’ve had a lot of different coaches since I’ve been a part of the program,” Balliette says. “There’s been a lot of starting over, but now we’re part of a new generation.”
Balliette began playing flag football when he was 7 years old, but it wasn’t until his first season of tackle football in seventh grade that he started taking the sport seriously.
“I liked the contact,” Balliette says. “It was just something new. I was nervous at first, but once I got the hang of it, I realized it was a lot of fun.”
Balliette started out playing defensive end for the Pirates before transitioning to linebacker his sophomore season. This fall, Balliette also will see some time at tight end. Although, he admits he prefers lining up on the defensive side of the ball.
“I just like hitting and inflicting pain in people,” Balliette says.
Now, as he prepares to run out onto the field in his final season opener Friday, Aug. 30, Balliette is hoping to instill a sense of pride and passion for the game in his younger teammates, including his younger brother, Chase, whom he’ll line up alongside for the first time.
“I want to leave a legacy here,” Balliette says. “I hope people will remember me as No. 20, and my coaches and all of my teammates remember what I put out for this team.”
— Jen Blanco, Sports Editor
To view more info on other teams, as well as scores, stats and video, click here.
BY THE NUMBERS
Braden River High School
6546 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton / Mascot: Pirates / 2012 Record: 1-9
329 — The number of points the Pirates allowed last season.
17 — The number of seniors on this year’s roster.
5 — The number of games in which Braden River was shutout last season.
Curt Bradley: Second year
On building upon last season: Last year at this time we were just trying to get settled in and meet the players. Having that first year under us is huge. We’ve rededicated the program to the weight room. The players have been in the program, and they know what to expect.
On the value of playing time: We’ve got young experience. We played 10 sophomores and two freshmen last year. They got their feet wet. It was sort of like baptism by fire. We went in with the understanding that they were going to struggle, but they would be better for it in the long run. We lost 18 seniors, so we’ve got to have kids step up and take over those leadership roles.
On the new district: I like the new district. Because we’re still a young program, it got tough having to go toe-to-toe with Manatee and Venice who have so much tradition and don’t have to compete for players.
All games start at 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 North Fort Myers
Sept. 6 at Port Charlotte
Sept. 13 at Southeast
Sept. 20 Lakewood Ranch*
Sept. 27 Booker
Oct. 4 at Sarasota*
Oct. 11 Bayshore
Oct. 18 BYE
Oct. 25 North Port*
Nov. 1 at Palmetto*
Nov. 8 at DeSoto County
*Denotes district game
PLAYERS TO WATCH
15 — Dusty Peebles
“He’s taken tremendous strides,” Curt Bradley says.
20 — Marcus Balliette
Senior, linebacker/tight end
“He’s (probably) the best football player we have,” Bradley says. “He’s got a great football mind, and he’s a great kid and leader.”