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Sarasota Thursday, May 23, 2019 3 weeks ago

Spring football gives programs hope heading into summer break

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Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

Outside of the playoffs and the first week of the regular season, spring football games are some of my favorite football games to watch.

New players emerge. Coaches show off their scheme adjustments. Established veterans remind you why they are worth watching. More than anything, spring football fills the air with hope. Every team enters spring believing it can be a contender with a few tweaks, and they leave it — regardless of their spring game’s outcome — believing a summer’s worth of hard work can get them there. Then Week One will hit in August, and all that belief will either come tumbling down or grow exponentially. For most teams, it will unfortunately be the former, but that’s a problem for their future selves. Right now, they can bathe in that hope.

One team that might have a shot at growing its hope is Sarasota High. The Sailors are entering the second season under coach Spencer Hodges and the program already has a distinct feel. Hodges demands a lot of his players, but he’s fair, and his extensive knowledge of the game has his team believing in itself. After a 2-8 season in 2018 where improvement didn’t always show on the scoreboard, the Sailors faced Cardinal Mooney High in their home spring game May 21. The Cougars went 8-3 in 2018 despite missing star quarterback Ryan Bolduc for the second half of the season and made the playoffs.

How would the Sailors match up with a tough opponent? Quite well, it turns out.

Sarasota wideout Ke'Andre Collins (4) had two touchdowns against the Cougars.

Sarasota defeated Cardinal Mooney 34-21 thanks to a quick-strike offense and an opportunistic defense. The Sailors led 20-0 at halftime. Rising junior running back/defensive back Dominic Bennett had three touchdowns and an interception, and rising senior wide receiver Ke’Andre Collins, who led the state in kickoff return yards last season, had two scores, including a double-reverse on the first play of the second half where he outraced the entire Cougars defense down the right sideline.

“If you make them invest more, then you get more from them,” Hodges said.

“Every kid has put on 10-45 pounds of muscle this offseason. I am putting them to the fire, making them learn football. They understand the game a lot more. Year One, you are breaking bad habits. Year Two, you are trying to create good ones. These kids have been through a lot. They are galvanizing together. Kudos to them. There was a lot better vibe and atmosphere tonight. I am excited for them.”

Losing to Cardinal Mooney would not have diminished that work, Hodges said, but winning validates it. The game was a measuring stick. Now Hodges can show his team proof that yes, it can compete with playoff teams if it performs at the top of its game. How much the Sailors can build on one performance remains to be seen, but it was certainly a good start.

Cardinal Mooney quarterback Ryan Bolduc had three total touchdowns against Sarasota.

The Cougars themselves had bright spots in the second half, largely involving Bolduc, who threw a touchdown strike to rising senior Meko Mayes and ran for two more. He is the real deal, and the team will be fine as long as it has him under center.

Elsewhere, Riverview High lost 39-25 to Palmetto High on May 17 while Booker High beat North Port High 34-23 on May 10. Both games were on the road.

All these games are results that, while not perfect, give positives to encourage fans and players heading into the dog days. It’s also important to note that these rosters are not finished products. Some players will transfer schools over the summer, and freshman will make an impact once arriving in August. So if training camp is the meal, spring football is the amuse-bouche, and what a tasty one it is.

Is your mouth watering for more football yet? Mine is. As young players are wont to tell each other these days: Stay hungry. The best is yet to come.

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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