For the past few years, the Sarasota High football team has appeared poised to make "the leap."
The Sailors have made one leap already, from a bottom-feeder to a competitive team with a handful of game-changing players. That's progress. But the Sailors aren't satisfied with that. They want more.
"This year we are looking to break through and make it to the playoffs and be one of the better teams in the area," Sailors Head Coach Brody Wiseman said at a Suncoast Media Days event Aug. 6 at The Mall at University Town Center. "We have been on the cusp of doing that the last few years. We just haven't had everything that we need. We have worked hard in the weight room and in bringing our kids together. We're hoping this is the year."
Many teams talk about the idea of togetherness, but the Sailors are putting it into action. Wiseman said he arrived at the media day event directly from the conclusion of an overnight lock-in the program had conducted. The idea of the lock-in was for everyone team to get to know their teammates beyond surface-level facts — and get in some quality football practice, too, under the midnight stars. Wiseman said this group is already playing more as a team than any Sailors group he's had in the past.
The biggest obstacle the 2022 Sailors will have to overcome is the loss to starting quarterback Lance Trippel, who graduated this spring. Trippel threw for 1,936 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2021. His replacement appears to be sophomore Alexander Diaz, who quarterbacked the school's freshman team last season. Diaz, who is 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds according to MaxPreps, looked impressive in video of the program's spring jamboree against Manatee High. Diaz will need to improve his decision-making under pressure a bit, but he showcased a strong arm and an ability to make throws to all areas of the field. He's done enough this summer at various camps to earn an offer from the University of Tennessee-Martin, a fine feat for someone who has yet to take a snap at the varsity level.
Diaz will have plenty of weapons to utilize. Wiseman said he's high on his team's receiving corps, which will be led by seniors Tyler Pack and Caleb Bradley (both of whom will also play in the Sailors' defensive secondary). Pack was used as a reliable option last season, catching 16 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown. Bradley caught just six passes, but they went for 145 yards and a touchdown, and he displayed his athleticism this spring when he finished ninth in the boys 300 meter hurdles at the Class 4 state track and field meet (39.77 seconds). Diaz should have plenty of time to find them: Wiseman said he's proud of the improvements the offensive line has made this offseason, particularly in the weight room. Wiseman said this is his first year as a head coach where all of his linemen will look like linemen.
"Most of our guys up front are squatting over 500 pounds and benching over or close to 300 pounds," Wiseman said at the media day event. "We feel like when we line up against most of our opponents we are going to have a huge advantage inside."
Ideally, those linemen will be opening big holes for junior running back Joe Ziegler, who transferred to the Sailors from Braden River High. Ziegler said he's confident he can make things happen when the linemen give him an opportunity.
"I follow the design of the play," Ziegler said. "I get to the open field and then get to the end zone."
Wiseman said that the team will run plays out of multiple formations, as it has done in the past, in order to give opposing defense as many looks to prepare for as possible — though the team may run the ball more than it has in the past thanks to the arrival of the 5-foot-9, 200 pound Ziegler, whom Wiseman is excited about showcasing.
On defense, Pack and Bradley will patrol the secondary against enemy passes, and as excited as Wiseman is for their offensive abilities, it is on defense where he expects the duo to shine the most. Wiseman said the pair has "been a pain in [his] butt" as the offensive play caller during practice, as they can cover so much ground between them.
In front of them, with his hand in the dirt, will be Maddox Marchbank, the do-everything senior linemen that acts as the soul of the Sailors roster. Marchbank had 55 tackles in 2021 including 22 tackles for loss. He also led the Sailors with seven sacks. He'll be playing on the offensive line and doing some long snapping this year as well, but the defensive line should continue to be his strongest spot. He'll be joined by senior Armando Morales, who had 37 tackles and three sacks.
Schedule-wise, the Sailors have as difficult a road as they typically do. Under the Florida High School Athletic Association's new Metro/Suburban classification system, Sarasota is in the Suburban 4 Class, in a district with Riverview High and Venice High, two traditional powers in this area of Florida. Among other tough games, the Sailors play fellow Sarasota teams Booker High and Cardinal Mooney High and end the season with a trip to Braden River High, a Manatee County power who expects to be strong again this season.
But the flow of the schedule could allow the Sailors to get off to a fast start — 4-0 is not out of the question — before getting into the meat of the schedule, which is always an advantage. If Sarasota does start well, and can pull one or two upsets in the second half of the season, getting back to the postseason is possible.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.