- September 7, 2019
It didn't take the entire first quarter Aug. 25 for Lakewood Ranch High senior running back Kevin Everhart to make an impact.
Unfortunately, he didn't have any more time.
The Mustangs's season-opener against visiting Lemon Bay was canceled because of lightning. The game was delayed approximately 90 minutes before the decision to cancel the game arrived. The contest will not be made up as Lakewood Ranch had standardized testing Aug. 27 and Lemon Bay's next game is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 1, making a Monday game impossible.
Everhart, who racked up 931 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021, scored the game's only touchdown before the lightning on a bruising 1-yard run. It won't count in the stat book, but it was another sign that Lakewood Ranch's ground game can lead the team to success.
Lemon Bay went 9-1 in 2021 while Lakewood Ranch went 3-6. Less than one quarter of play doesn't anything definitive about either team, but the Mustangs did hold the Manta Rays scoreless on two drives while putting a touchdown on the board.
Everhart was not surprised the Mustangs started fast against a team that was 9-1 a year ago.
"We're a good team," Everhart said. "We expected to go out and take the lead on them. We're going to beat some big teams in the 941 (area) this year."
His confidence was buoyed by the team's performance in its preseason Kickoff Classic game against Dunedin High, when the Mustangs went on the road and pushed the Falcons around to the tune of 49-6.
Everhart ran for three touchdowns in that game.
If the Mustangs are going to keep that success going into the regular season, he's going to be a large part of it. The Mustangs had a quarterback battle this offseason which, based on the half-quarter played against Lemon Bay, was won by junior Clayton Dees.
In the short period of time, the Mustangs' passing game already had connected on a few big plays, including a 31-yard completion from Dees to junior Nick Sinacore, but its obvious the Mustangs consider Everhart to be the workhorse, something he had no problem providing last season when he averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
Everhart would have been likely to gain 1,000 yards rushing in 2021, but the Mustangs' final game against Booker was canceled because of inclement weather. Despite similar circumstances against Lemon Bay, Everhart said he's determined to hit the milestone this season after spending all offseason thinking about it.
He has also used this offseason to attend camps and perform for college coaches, something he had not done in previous years.
"That changed my perspective on things," Everhart said. "I used to think I was an easy four- or five-star player. Then I got to these camps and I realized how many great players there are across the country. There is a lot of competition. I still think I'm a great player, but I realized I needed to keep working."
At each camp, Everhart said, he would ask the running backs coach what specifically he needed to improve. The most common answers were little things like sprinting through the end of each play (even if he doesn't have the ball) and breaking an extra tackle or falling forward to gain precious yardage. Everhart has gone to work on those areas of his game and he believes they will pay off in 2022.
While he has improved, Everhart knows he can't win games on his own. He said he's excited for the public to see his teammates' improvement as well. He mentioned Brian Areco, the team's senior left guard. Everhart said Areco was good at opening holes last season as a junior, but has become stronger this year as a senior and is now capable of tossing opponents around.
Everhart also gave a shoutout to junior Nathan Smith, a defensive tackle/end, who he expects to be one of the team's sack leaders thanks to his power and size (Smith is 6-foot-1, 240 pounds).
The Mustangs are in their fourth year under Head Coach Rashad West. Everhart said the time for Lakewood Ranch's rise is now.
"Before I transferred here (for the 2021 season) and even last year, I don't think the program had the leadership it needed," Everhart said. "We have it all now, the coaches and the players. We're coming up and all the pressure is on me and the other leaders to perform. We're going to lead by example and get it done. We're not the same team anymore, so get ready."