Sailors football believes it is close to righting the ship.
If Spencer Hodges was feeling stressed as he sat on a couch in the Sarasota High football office after practice August 5, surrounded by his staff, he didn’t show it. In fact, he carried a confident air.
In 2018, year one as Sailors head coach, Hodges thought the program had a ways to go to build the program back to its glory days standing. He was right: The Sailors finished 2-8. But he swore the team improved from start to finish, becoming stronger, tightening its fundamentals and having more fun.
If the regular season record didn’t prove him right, May’s spring game did. Sarasota defeated Cardinal Mooney, a playoff team in 2018, 34-21. Sarasota looked energized and played uptempo, gassing the Cougars on the ground and forcing turnovers.
As the 2019 season approaches, the Sailors plans have been accelerated. There is a buzz surrounding the program. Sarasota believes it can compete right now, faster than anyone — except perhaps Hodges — anticipated.
“We are a lot more mature as a football team,” Hodges said. “We are competing our asses off. … The offense will win one day, then the defense will watch film and get a ton better, and so on.”
Hodges makes sure hard work is rewarded. On this particular day, the defense got dessert for playing well. Players who are on time and give 100% effort get pizza. The players’ energy, in turn, is infectious. Multiple Sarasota coaches said this is the most fun they have had coaching the game.
Energy alone doesn’t win games. The Sailors also have talent, in returning and transfer form. Sarasota has 16 players with at least one collegiate offer. Junior linebacker/safety Terrell Pack is a menace on the back end of the defense. He’ll be joined by junior safety Dominic Bennett, who had an interception in the spring game. Senior cornerback Blaise Freeman joins them to create a lockdown secondary.
On offense, two transfers may put the Sailors over the top. Senior running back Brian Battie returns to Sarasota, where he spent his sophomore season, after a year at Braden River High. In 2018, Battie was seventh among Florida running backs — all levels — with 2,133 yards and 28 touchdowns. He is committed to South Florida. Battie said he returned to the Sailors to finish his high school career under his father, Tommie Battie, who is Sarasota’s running backs coach.
“This is home,” Brian Battie said.
Also coming to the Sailors from Braden River is Travis Tobey, a senior tight end. He had 452 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season and is an adept blocker, both on the edge and in the slot. Hodges said the leadership Tobey and Battie provide is what he was hoping to develop in his players two to three years from now. To already have it, he said, makes things a lot easier.
Hodges is also excited about returning 6-foot-7 quarterback Vincent Parisi, a senior, who he said has added muscle and refinement to his game. Throwing to speedsters Ke’Andre Collins and Thomas Pack, both seniors, Parisi and the Sailors should see success.
Hodges doesn’t want players getting ahead of themselves, urging them to give each opponent the respect it deserves. But the dreams Hodges believes his team can achieve aren’t hard to see.
“We are going to compete,” Hodges said. “It’s not going to be, ‘We’re just happy to be here.’ We are here to win.”
Next week: Booker High and Cardinal Mooney High