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East Bradenton football programs spring forward

As the spring practice season begins, here is what fans of Braden River High, Lakewood Ranch High and ODA should watch.

Braden River High then-junior quarterback Lucas Despot threw a touchdown pass to Yahshua Edwards against Lakewood Ranch High in 2023. New Pirates Head Coach Eric Sanders wants Despot to lead more in 2024.
Braden River High then-junior quarterback Lucas Despot threw a touchdown pass to Yahshua Edwards against Lakewood Ranch High in 2023. New Pirates Head Coach Eric Sanders wants Despot to lead more in 2024.
File photo
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Eric Sanders has been a part of 12 spring football seasons at Braden River High, but the 2024 season feels unique. 

Sanders, formerly the school's offensive coordinator, is now the head coach. Former Pirates Head Coach Curt Bradley departed the program for Southeast High in December. 

"I can put my own mark on it," Sanders said. "I'm excited for the challenge and the opportunity to do that." 

Though Sanders admits some things about the Pirates' spring workouts, which opened April 29, have already changed — the amount of time dedicated to various in-game situations, for instance, and Sanders' duties overseeing the whole program instead of just the offense — the bones of the Pirates' spring remains the same. 

That means Sanders is doing a lot of watching. Every day, Sanders said, he wants to see his team take the things it learns in individual instruction, or positional instruction, and apply it to team drills. Each practice is an opportunity to get better, Sanders said, no matter if the team is in workout clothes or in full pads, as the team will be starting May 4 through the end of the spring season on May 17. 

What specifically is Sanders looking for? Here's what fans of the Pirates, as well as East County's other programs, should watch as spring practices and games are played this month. 

Braden River High

Although he's now the head coach with full-team responsibilities, Sanders' heart still pumps for the offense. The Pirates have averaged 28.7 points per game under his watch, with seven seasons averaging more than 30 points per game. To add another season into that category this fall, the Pirates will need rising senior Lucas Despot to take the next step in his development. In 2023, his first full season as a starter, Despot threw for 1,619 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 58.6% of his passes. 

Braden River High rising senior running back Marcus Galloway.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Sanders said he wants to see Despot become more of an on-field leader come the fall. 

"I want him to take command of the entire offense, orchestrate things out there without me saying anything," Sanders said. "Have guys in their spots and communicate, across the board." 

Sanders also has high expectations for rising senior running back Marcus Galloway. Galloway split carries with Yashua Edwards last season, ending with 627 yards and three touchdowns, but Edwards has transferred to Sarasota's Riverview High, opening the door for Galloway to carry the load. 

"He's good with the football in his hands," Sanders said of Galloway. "He's going to get a lot of opportunities to make plays." 

The Pirates will play their spring game at 7:30 p.m. May 17 at Boca Ciega High. 

Lakewood Ranch High

The Mustangs went 4-7 in 2023, the first under Head Coach Scott Paravicini. When the team won, it was the result of a good defensive effort first and foremost: The Mustangs allowed just 11.8 points per game in their four wins. 

To replicate that type of production, the Mustangs will need several younger players to fill the shoes of departing seniors. Four of the team's top-six tackle leaders — Simon Freed (66 tackles), Levi Freed (62), Evan Bolick (54) and Jayden Munoz (46) — will graduate this spring. How the team makes up for those losses will begin to be answered this spring. A help: rising junior linebacker Cole Wetherington will be back. Wetherington led the Mustangs with 67 tackles and tied with Bolick to lead the team in tackles for loss (9). 

A replacement for Munoz's ball-hawking abilities at cornerback will also be difficult to find; Munoz had six interceptions in 2023. 

The Mustangs will hit the road to play George Jenkins High at 6:30 p.m. May 17. 

The Out-of-Door Academy

How do you follow a Sunshine State Athletic Association Class 4A title win?

If you're ODA Head Coach Rob Hollway, you ask your team to do it again. 

That's the position ODA finds itself in this spring. After an injury-plagued regular season campaign in 2023, the Thunder got healthy before the postseason and made a run, ultimately winning the title game 33-14 win over Lighthouse Private Christian Academy. 

Doing it once was hard enough. Doing it twice will be the program's greatest challenge yet, Hollway said. It will come after the small private school placed two players at NCAA Division I schools this offseason, linebacker Charlie Tack at Furman University and kicker/punter Mika Levy at Howard University. 

"I feel like we have momentum," Hollway said. "Vibes are high and we continue to produce a program kids want to be a part of." 

ODA running back Allen Clark raises the ball after scoring a touchdown against Santa Fe Catholic.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Replacing the production of Tack and Levy will be a top priority, as will be finding a new leader on defense. Tack was one of the program's top players since he arrived as a freshman and took the sport seriously, even when others in the program did not. His commitment, alongside Hollway's arrival in 2022, helped turn around a program that had been flailing. 

The offense should once again revolve around the Thunder's offensive line and rising junior running back Allen Clark. Clark had 1,104 yards on 163 carries (6.8 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns. Hollway has mentioned several times that the team would like to be more run-pass balanced if possible, both to keep defenses guessing and to take pressure off of Clark to perform. This spring could be an opportunity to experiment with that. 

ODA will play its spring game in a jamboree format at 10 a.m. May 18 against Canterbury High and Sarasota Christian School. 



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.

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