Sarasota area football programs hope strong offseason will lead to success in the fall.
The Cardinal Mooney football team is making a statement — one clean and jerk, bench press and pull up at a time.
Clad in a cutoff Cougars cheerleading shirt, gym shorts and a backwards ball cap, senior linebacker and wide receiver Vinny Conetta steps up to the platform and begins the routine that will hopefully carry him toward a state championship.
Sweat begins to trickle down Conetta’s face, as he grips the roughly 265-pound weight bar, lifts it off the floor and curls it into his bicep.
Conetta will repeat the sequence several more times before moving across the weight room to tackle the next task on coach Drew Lascari’s offseason conditioning workout.
“We’re just trying to go as hard as we can right now,” Conetta said. “We’re getting a lot better every day, and trying to be the best that we can be.”
For the duration of summer vacation, the Cougars have spent roughly five hours a day, four days a week, at the school preparing for the upcoming season participating in everything from 90 minute weight-training sessions to team meetings and on-field conditioning practices.
It may seem like daunting way to spend summer vacation, but Conetta and his teammates aren’t concerned with their inability to spend their afternoons at the beach.
Rather, the players, who also spend ample time together outside of practice, are focused on the perpetual payoff three months from now. The Cougars reached the playoffs last season as the district runner-up and have aspirations of returning to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
“We’re motivated,” Conetta said. “We want to be the best we can and better than we ever have been. It’s all going to pay off during the regular season. The hard work we put in now, we’ll see during our games. We’ll be faster and stronger, and teams aren’t going to be ready.”
Across town, the Riverview, Sarasota and Booker High football teams also have spent several hours a day this summer working out in the weight room and conditioning together as a team on the field.
“If we work hard in the weight room, it’ll transfer over to the season, and hopefully we can carry it on from there,” Riverview senior quarterback Michael Welcer, who started the hashtag #roadtoplayoffs2K16 for the Rams this season, said. “I believe in working hard, and to me, that’s what’s going to make this team more together.”
In addition to weight raining and fitness, the Rams’ skill players also have competed in one or two 7-on-7 tournaments a week against area teams, including powerhouses Venice and Braden River.
Nearly 60 players have been in attendance on a daily basis inside the Rams’ weight room with the same goal: to match their level of play with the expectation that’s been established inside the Riverview locker room.
“The biggest thing we stress is commitment,” Riverview coach Todd Johnson said. “If they want to have a successful season, they need to show up and give everything they can to these workouts.
“It’s interesting to see from year to year each individual player and his development,” Johnson said. “The offseason is usually pretty telling as to what type of year you’re going to have.”
In addition to the work they put in at home, the Rams also spent time this summer traveling to a team camp at Eckerd College,in St. Petersburg. The four-day camp allowed the players to don helmets and shoulder pads for the first time since the spring season ended in May. A handful of players also attended the Jimbo Fisher Camp July 22, at Florida State.
Aside from the work they put in on their home fields, Sarasota area players have also spent the summer attending recruiting camps in the hopes of not only perfecting their skills against top notch players from across the nation, but landing potential scholarships as well.
Booker defensive tackle Kelvin Pinkney announced his commitment to the University of South Florida last week while Riverview’s Vince Sellers Jr. and Zahodri Jackson also have received multiple offers.
The workout regimens may be different from team to team, but at the end of the day, coaches at Riverview, Cardinal Mooney, Sarasota and Booker all have the same goal: to make sure their players are physically ready to go when practice officially starts Aug. 1.
“I’m a firm believer that games are won in the offseason,” Lascari said