Hernando working toward next step

Photography by Alice Mary Herden

Hernando head football coach Bill Vonada may be running for a school board seat, but that hasn’t kept him from running the Leopards’ spring practice this month.
The veteran headman, about to embark on his third season at Hernando, has often said that the administration anticipated a three-year rebuild when he was hired.
So far the Leopards have gone 3-6 and 3-7 during Vonada’s tenure, and for a program low on numbers both in terms of players and assistant coaches, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“The goal is to move forward and I think we’re seeing that this spring already,” Vonada said. “You talk about the third year; you expect to start seeing more benefits of guys being in the system a couple years. You expect to see progress.”
Vonada has been there before. He harkened back to his 15-year run at Springstead, during which the Eagles posted losing records his first three years before a run of 10 seasons of .500 or better over the next 12.
Hernando will spend the next few weeks working toward a spring classic May 20 at Sunlake. The game kicks off at 7 p.m.
“It’s going pretty well. There’s not a ton of numbers but I feel like we have a solid core group,” Vonada said. “We’d like to dress about 40 and I think we’ll be somewhere around there.
“We’re moving puzzle pieces around. It’ll take us all spring to get through the evaluation process.”
Graduation is about to claim Hernando’s two leading rushers, Christian Dowdell (1,036 yards, five touchdowns) and Jacob Valentino (393 yards, four touchdowns), as well as leading receiver Tyler Quigley (10 catches, 243 yards, two touchdowns). Also gone are top tacklers Austin Sternberger (76 tackles) and Tyson Libengood (72).
Additionally, Vonada noted that the Leopards are so short on coaches that they’re relying on the volunteer efforts of some of those soon-to-be-gone seniors.
“I feel good about what we’re doing, what we’re seeing. We’re trying to get guys to the point where they’re reacting and not making mental mistakes,” Vonada said. “We went into it with some returning guys. We know what they could do, but it’s still a wide-open competition. It’s not so much positions we’re concentrating on. We’re trying to move pieces around and get the best 22 on the field.
“We’re replacing a bunch of offensive linemen. Our offensive skill guys have a little more experience, but we do feel like the offensive line is really jelling. Defensively, we’re returning more starters but we could move a few from the offense to defense.”
Hernando will receive a stiff test when it faces Sunlake, which has become a perennial playoff contender that has won at least eight games each season since 2010.
“They’re such a quality opponent,” Vonada said. “We just want to see how guys react under game pressure. We want to see what guys play at game speed the entire time they’re in there, what guys strive under pressure and step up under pressure.
“We’d like to have our basic package completely in, at least installed if not fine-tuned. And obviously the big thing for us is to stay healthy.”
Still, Vonada has been around long enough to not put too much stock in the results of an exhibition contest.
“You’d like to win but really for us I’ve never been, especially in a spring game, as concerned with the scoreboard as performance,” Vonada said. “It’s about getting guys bought into the system, representing us well and playing at 100 miles per hour physically, mentally and emotionally. Do those things and the scoreboard will take care of itself.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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