Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Prose and Kohn

Braden River High flag football wants to build something special

The Pirates are 11-0 as of March 29 and believe they can compete with the state's elite.

Braden River High flag football Head Coach Amanda Porco said she looks for players who are enthusiastic about the sport.
Braden River High flag football Head Coach Amanda Porco said she looks for players who are enthusiastic about the sport.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
  • East County
  • Sports
  • Share

An undefeated regular season is on the table for Braden River High flag football. 

The Pirates seek more. 

Not just this season, but for several seasons to come. 

The Braden River flag football program has become the dominant program in the region since starting play in 2020. The Pirates are 48-7 in that span. In 2024, Braden River stands at 11-0 as of March 29, with games against Lakewood Ranch High (8-5) and St. Petersburg High (7-1) remaining. The Pirates are ranked No. 19 in Florida and No. 7 in Class 1A by the Florida High School Athletic Association. 

Then Braden River will be off to the postseason, where the program has also seen success. Last season, the Pirates reached the FHSAA Class 1A regional finals before losing 32-0 to Tampa's Robinson High. 

That score was lopsided, but Robinson beat down everyone in its path on the way to a state title, including a 32-13 win over Choctawhatchee High in the state championship game. It was Robinson's eighth state title since 2014. The Knights have become the gold standard in flag football — not just in Florida, but in the United States. It's why Robinson Head Coach Josh Saunders was named a coach with the Girls 15U Flag Football U.S. National Team on March 7. 

Having Robinson in the region means Braden River will have to elevate its game to reach a state championship game. Pirates Head Coach Amanda Porco said a state title is the program's ultimate goal — so they will have to face and overcome Robinson at some point, along with the other five teams in front of them in the FHSAA rankings. 

Porco and the rest of the Pirates flag football staff have led the program to higher levels, but getting the Pirates to the upper echelons of the sport will be an additional challenge. 

Braden River High senior quarterback Cydnee Brooks sprints down the field against Dunedin High. The Pirates beat Dunedin 50-0 on Feb. 29.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

One way to do that? Get the best athletes you can. In tackle football, the best players on the team are often multi-sport athletes, participating in basketball, baseball or track and field in the offseason to stay in shape. It makes sense that flag football could work in similar fashion. Porco said the Pirates have players who started in soccer, volleyball and weightlifting, giving them a mix of players with different skills. 

But, Porco said, the best flag football players are the ones who love the sport on its own merits, seeing it as more than an offseason activity. To get good, a player has to dedicate herself to improving. It will not magically happen. That is why Porco watches players' body language when they first join the team, looking for hints of emotion. 

"The moment they get the hang of it, their faces light up," Porco said. "They instantly ask so many questions because they want the opportunity to find success."

There's more to flag football success than enjoyment and athleticism. Like tackle football, teams will need to have a plan for their opponents, and they will need the mental strength to perform at their best in the face of playoff pressure. A state title win will require all of it. 

Can the 2024 team be the one to get there? Porco believes in her team, and she has reasons for that, starting with senior quarterback Cydnee Brooks. As of March 29, Brooks has completed 69.6% of her passes for 1,980 yards, 36 touchdowns and three interceptions. Brooks also has 50 carries for 482 yards and 10 touchdowns. Whenever the Pirates move the ball, she's going to be involved. 

It's not just her play that impresses her head coach, but her attitude. 

"Cydnee commands the offense in such a mature way that puts the entire huddle at ease," Porco said.

Brooks spreads the ball around. Senior Ameria Smith leads the team with 48 catches, 622 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns, but junior Aubrey Barak had 47 catches for 460 yards and five touchdowns. Porco called Smith and Barak two of the most versatile athletes she has coached, helping the team win in multiple ways. That carries over to the defensive side of the ball, where Barak has 41 tackles, second on the team, and Smith has 23. 

Behind them in offensive production is senior Aryanna Spainhower, a volleyball player who had never tried flag football before this season. Spainhower has turned into a reliable threat, catching 38 passes for 427 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Flag football can seem like an offense-first sport, but top teams can put clamps on opposing offenses. While Barak and Smith contribute to that, the Pirates' defense is led by "the two Maddies," — junior Maddie Epperson and sophomore Maddie Baehr. Epperson leads the Pirates with 12 sacks and is a weapon with how she keeps quarterbacks uncomfortable. Baehr leads the Pirates with 42 tackles and has added four interceptions. As a team, the Pirates have 30 interceptions. 

"We've got players who wants to make an impact (on defense)," Porco said. 

Soon, everyone will see what the Pirates have got. A team can amass talent and cultivate an enthusiasm for the sport and create a game plan to exploit the holes in an opponent's game. Ultimately, it has to go perform. The Pirates want their season to end with a win, not a loss. The playoffs begin April 8 with the district tournament. That will be the beginning of their chance to prove how far they have come. 



Ryan Kohn

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.

Latest News