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East County Wednesday, May 27, 2009 10 years ago

Pirates, Mustangs strap up for spring ball

by: Jen Blanco Sports Editor

After nearly three weeks of practice, the Braden River and Lakewood Ranch High football teams will finally hit the gridiron this week in their annual spring games.

And I can’t wait to see how well the Pirates and Mustangs stack up.

The spring game is unique because generally they don’t count for anything more than bragging rights. Instead, the game is used as a measuring stick to evaluate whether or not the team has met the expectations of its coaches.

But even though the score may disappear once the lights go out on the scoreboard, the result of the game likely will stay with the players and coaches until August when the fall season officially kicks off.

“Mainly, we’re just trying to see if they’re following what we’ve asked them to do the last 18 or 19 days,” Lakewood coach Shawn Trent said. “The good thing is its spring ball, so we still have another two months until it counts.”

“For us it’s a total evaluation tool,” Braden River coach Ed Volz said. “We’re going to look at where we are and look at what areas we need to improve upon to get better.”

Following last season, the Pirates and Mustangs were on two different ends of the spectrum. The Pirates were coming off their best season in school history, finishing with an 8-4 record and advancing to the Class 3A-Region 3 semifinals for the first time. While their rivals were enjoying their historic playoff run, the Mustangs, who finished 1-9, were trying to find their identity with hopes of returning to championship form.

Now with their spring games looming, both teams’ slates are wiped clean, and a new set of expectations have emerged. But the road to the spring game hasn’t been easy for either team.

A lot has changed since we saw the Pirates and Mustangs walk off the field for the final time last fall. Some of those changes have been for the better, while others still have us asking ourselves — why?

Having faced more adversity in the past two months than most teams face in a decade, the Pirates have every reason to be unfocused this spring — but that’s not what either of the two coaches they lost in the months leading up to the start of spring practice would have wanted.

So instead of letting their hardships get the best of them, the Pirates — led by starters Stephen Fischer, Trevor Barnes and Ty Williams — rallied together and set sail under Volz. 

Over the past three weeks, Braden River has spent much of its time working on fundamentals, skill and game drills and overall defensive schemes. The Pirates will get a chance to see just how far they’ve come when they travel to Riverview today to take on the Class 6A-District 6 champion Rams.

The key to the game for the Pirates will be in how well the offensive line is able to protect its quarterback and open up running lanes for running backs Tevin Bryant and Jajuan Bell. Having lost three of its starters to graduation, the Pirates are still trying to break in their offensive line, and the spring game will provide the line with some much-needed game-time exposure.

Across town, the Mustangs have been busy preparing for their spring game against Island Coast this Friday. Similar to the Pirates, the Mustangs have been working hard the past three weeks to develop some of their younger talent, particularly on the offensive line.

Lakewood lost several players to graduation, many of which played the same position, forcing the Mustangs to shuffle some players around. Additionally, Trent has added five new coaches to his staff, which has continually helped the players develop.

“This is honestly the first time I’ve felt comfortable (sending) the guys out there and knowing that they’re getting coached,” Trent said. “We’ve also moved some coaches around which has helped us, and the kids are responding well.”

Offense will be the key for the Pirates and the Mustangs this week as both teams try to put the past behind them and build for the fall. Check out Your for results and photos from both spring games.

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