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Sarasota Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2019 2 years ago

Prose and Kohn: Sarasota football drops anchor

Sailors football makes statement with 75-0 win
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

As Sarasota High football fans flooded the parking lot, one notion was repeated ad nauseam. It went something like this:

“In all my years, I can’t remember a game like this.”

Normally, that kind of thing is hyperbole. It wasn’t this time. The Sarasota football team had just finished dismantling Titusville High 75-0 — not a typo — to move to 4-0 on the season. Only a running clock and Sailors coach Spencer Hodges putting in his bench players before halftime prevented things from getting worse. It was 31-0 after the first quarter and the Sailors scored on defense nearly as much as they did on offense. 

Sailors senior running back Brian Battie is hoisted in the air by senior guard Mac Mitchell after a touchdown.

It’s not just the score that is remarkable. Titusville isn’t good team; the Bulldogs won a single game in 2018 and are winless thus far in 2019. It is that not too long ago — last year, in fact — Sarasota was their own version of Titusville. The Sailors went 2-8 in 2018 and lost by 40 or more points three times. In another game (against Braden River High), they trailed by 38 at the half before a modest second half made the final score 51-19. The team scored 130 points all year.

Now, 12 months later, they are running teams off the field. Their average margin of victory this season is 52 points. They have allowed nine points all year, and all came in one game, a 48-9 win against Lemon Bay High. 

I found Hodges sitting on his team’s bench after the Sailor’s post-game pep talk. He had never won by that much in high school, he said, and had only done it once ever, in college — but that game didn’t have a running clock. All things considered, this game was tops. As for how he got his team here? That’s a complicated question. 

Adding players like seniors Brian Battie, a running back, and Travis Tobey, a tight end, helps, certainly. Both came from Braden River and both bring the on-field leadership Hodges was looking for. Battie, in particular, has been marvelous. He has run for 629 yards through four games on a ridiculous 15 yards per carry (YPC), and has 11 touchdowns. His yardage puts him 12th in Florida, all classifications, but his YPC is second out of those 12. 

Then again, two players don’t make a team a juggernaut, and neither Battie nor Tobey play defense. Hodges has transformed his defensive unit into a brick wall with playmakers at each level, even though he credits that to kids staying in the program rather than transferring out, as has been the trend in recent seasons.

“We used to be a lot of teams’ Homecoming games,” Hodges said. “I knew that when I took over (prior to 2018), and I knew the biggest thing would be not letting kids leave. We had to give them a reason to stay. That’s our facilities, our jerseys, our coaching staff, our attention to detail. The ability to have a position coach for all nine units on offense and defense and special teams, with every kid getting one-on-one attention to develop their game. That makes the whole team better. It’s crazy to think about when I took this thing over. I knew it could be good. We’re going to keep it rolling.”

The team also has a new weight room that cost about $200,000, and Hodges said that has improved the team’s strength, but it’s the small things that go the longest way. Battie said senior quarterback Vincent Parisi has impressed him with his ability to take care of the football — he has zero interceptions — and knowing where to throw on each play, resulting in a completion percentage of 62.3 percent according to MaxPreps. Parisi isn’t a superstar recruit, but he doesn’t have to be one in this offense. He’s playing smart football and helping his team win. You get 22 of those guys and you can win a lot of football games. 

The Sailors toughest test awaits them. They host Port Charlotte High (3-1) at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20. The Pirates are good, and we will know a lot more about how good the Sailors are after they play them. But win or lose, Sarasota is no longer a laughingstock, and that means something. It means real progress. 

After our chat, Hodges stayed seated on the bench.

“I’ll get up eventually,” he said. 

As I walked away, Hodges stared into the distance, soaking in the moment, letting the band’s victory song and his team’s cheerful whooping fill his ears. Who knows when something like this will happen again? The Sailors may not be on top of the football world, but they were for one night.

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

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