Sports notebook: New football coaches make debuts

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

In the long run, this week’s spring football classics will likely be forgotten footnotes for the upcoming prep football season.
But for Nature Coast’s Cory Johns and Weeki Wachee’s Jacob Gray, those exhibitions marked the first time those two new head coaches roamed the sideline at their respective posts.
Johns and the Sharks traveled to Palm Harbor University on Tuesday, since Nature Coast held its graduation on Friday night, and cruised to a 44-14 victory.
“It was just a great opportunity to see everybody together and playing together. We played against each other the last three weeks, finally we had a chance to see it all come together,” Johns said. “I think it puts a good taste in everybody’s mouth going into the season. I think the spring game is important to getting kids to show up in the summer and believe they have something to work for.”
Johns, previously the headman at Kissimmee-Liberty, was hired in January to replace Justin Worden, who left for the top job at his alma mater, Titusville-Astronaut. The Sharks went 22-2 the past two seasons, capturing back-to-back district titles.
They didn’t appear to skip a beat against the Hurricanes (6-3 in 2016), despite missing Michael Weston, expected to become the primary running back as a junior in the fall but currently nursing a pulled hamstring.
That opened the door for Zach Powell, about to become a senior, who carried the ball 21 times and piled up 215 yards while scoring three touchdowns. Additionally, Fabian Burnett scored twice, contributing to a 400-yard team rushing performance.
Linebacker Colton Owen, who will be a junior, recorded eight tackles to pace a defense that limited PHU to 20 yards on the ground and generated two turnovers.
“I thought the spring went really well,” Johns said. “We got the offensive and defensive systems put in. It was a pretty good spring and we came out with a big win against a pretty good football team. That’s always good.”
Gray is just the second head coach in Weeki Wachee history, taking the job after Mark Lee stepped down at the conclusion of last season.
Weeki Wachee's Amar Walker runs for extra yardage after hauling in a catch versus Anclote. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

While the Hornets (0-10 in 2016) suffered a 28-27 home loss against Anclote on Thursday night, they certainly showed some encouraging signs, particularly in building a 21-0 lead.
However, starting quarterback Vaughn Sykora left the game after banging his elbow on a helmet and did not return. Eventually third-stringer Hunter Bower took over under center after the team fell behind 28-21, and he led a late touchdown drive, capping it with a 3-yard scoring run on fourth down with nine seconds left.
A chance to tie the game was lost when the Hornets had trouble getting the snap down on the point-after attempt.
“Anclote is a very, very athletic team on the perimeter. We just couldn’t kill the clock and protect the lead,” Gray said. “Because we don’t have depth, we have so many guys going both ways, they started to wear on us and their quarterback heated up.
“We wanted to be physical and we did that. The kids bought in. We did what we wanted to do. We’ve got to continue to build some depth and we’ve got to get back in the weight room.”
Weeki Wachee's Shane Davidson shows some emotion after making a play in Thursday night's spring classic. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

Also on Thursday, Springstead (6-3 in 2016) pulled off an impressive 34-0 shutout of South Sumter. Nathan Sims scored three times on rushing touchdowns and Randy Morgan ran for two more scores.
“It was a great overall team effort,” Springstead head coach Mike Garofano said. “It was a well-played game. Defensively, we got after it and the guys gave great effort. They were getting to the ball and doing what we preached. And offensively, we made some big plays.
“We were able to run the ball, move the ball, run down the clock and keep their offense off the field. And we won the turnover battle, 2-0, that’s always good.
“It kind of a nice springboard into the summer. We know the potential is there and we feel like we have the talent to have a successful season and compete for a district title. But we have to put in the work in the offseason.”
Hernando was set to play its spring game on Friday at Sunlake, but the game was canceled due to lightning in the area.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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