Jacob Spenn will lead the program into its first season and beyond.
Sarasota Christian football players can expect to play a lot of Duck, Duck, Goose.
It's a modified version of the game, though, where the "goose" is allowed to cut through the middle of the circle instead of taking the long way around That's a risk, of course, because everyone else has these mini footballs they can throw at the goose, and … you know what, the exact rules don't matter. The point is, Jacob Spenn is going to have the football players play Duck, Duck Goose. Or drop pumpkins off the back of a grandstand. Or play disc golf, or throw water balloons around, or some other idea he hasn't thought of yet.
Spenn does things differently than other coaches. He does so because he cares about different things. He wants to win, sure, and he's proven that he can; at Cypress Christian in Houston, Spenn went 82-53 over 12 seasons and won a state title in 2017. But Spenn wants those victories to be secondary. First, he wants his players to be the best people they can be. In all of those silly games, there's a lesson Spenn wants them to remember.
Spenn, 44, arrived at Sarasota Christian in June 2021 as the school's athletics director. He's also going to serve as the school's first football coach, as was the plan when he was hired. It's not going to be an easy task. There's a lot to get ready — and a lot that's already been done — before the team takes the field in the fall, playing in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. That includes preparing for spring practice, which begins next month, and a spring jamboree with three other schools on May 21. The practices will be the first opportunity Spenn gets to see his team in action, or in uniform.
Spenn cannot wait. After months of planning, recruiting players to try the sport and spending money — approximately $100,000 — on the equipment and supplies, he's ready to get the real work under way.
"I want to build great teams," Spenn said. "I want our coaches to create great environments for our kids where they're with each other, they love each other and they're having fun and learning valuable things. I'm excited to start doing those things from the ground floor."
Spenn does not know exactly how many kids will participate in spring football. His target is around 25, which would be an average-sized roster compared to the teams the Blazers will be playing in the SSAC. Will all those kids have previous football experience? No. Will they be guaranteed to stick around for the fall season? Also no. But it would be a start. Spenn was encouraged by the response to the school starting a flag football program for middle school students in the fall, which attracted 35 kids, and hopes the momentum from that trial run continues.
Also helping matters is that Sarasota Christian offers just one fall sport for boys: cross country. Spenn believes offering football as an alternative early in the school year will attract the school's athletic students to the game, even if they've never previously played.
This season, the Blazers will hold football games on the school's baseball field, which already doubles as a soccer field. Luckily, the diamond's outfield is massive, allowing for football games to be held from left field to center-right field and creating an L shape with the soccer field, which runs from center-right field into foul territory on the right side. This set-up minimizes the wear and tear that the games could put on the field for baseball season, Spenn said. Ideally, this set-up won't last for long; Spenn said he hopes to get an official football field built on campus within a few seasons.
Spenn said that while he does not know what offense he's going to run with the Blazers, he has a personal affinity for option offenses, as they teach players discipline and sacrifice, plus it allows for undersized schools — which Sarasota Christian likely will be, at least at first — to compete with bigger schools. But that doesn't mean that the Blazers will be running the ball 40 times a game. Spenn, who is a former wide receiver himself, said that the Blazers will not be afraid to throw the ball and could implement elements of spread offenses and run-pass options as opposed to the Navy-style triple option many fans associate with the term.
It seems like a solid plan for a brand-new program, one still trying to figure out what everything, including practices, will look like. But I was not kidding about Duck, Duck, Goose being a part of Spenn's repertoire. He really played that with his teams at Cypress Christian, multiple times a season. But I did fail to mention the final aspect of Spenn's modified version. At the end of the game, whoever is left standing gets sincere compliments said about them to the rest of the team, first by the coaches, then by any players who feel like adding something.
That stuff about building a culture of teaching and love? It isn't just talk. Spenn puts it into practice every day. He recalled a story from one of his years at Cypress Christian, when a team mom put together a book chronicling all the seniors' top moments of the season. Across all lists, only one specific football game was mentioned, Spenn said. The rest of the lists were filled with off-the-field moments, like stopping at McDonald's after a game or various bus rides where something hilarious happened. That stuck in his mind, Spenn said, and made him believe more than ever that the importance of football goes far beyond the gridiron.
I don't know how the Blazers will fare on the field this fall, or even next fall. But I'm pretty sure they're going to have a great time whatever the result.
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