SPRING HILL — Saturday’s officials scrimmage at Springstead High featuring 12 teams from Pasco and Hernando counties also doubled as a fund raiser. Springstead athletic director Dustin Kupcik renamed the scrimmage the “Clash 4 Clayton,’’ with proceeds going to aid former Hudson coach Rob Mahler’s 1-year-old son in his battle against Stage III pediatric cancer.
Kupcik said the final donation tally was $3,000, not including money earned from T-shirt and wristband sales as well as gifts given directly to Mahler.
“The crowd was steady throughout the day,” Kupcik said. “I feel like we had a great turnout. The donation buckets were overflowing. We got a $200 donation from the officials association. Our cheerleading coach gave $100. One of the other football teams gave $200. So it’s been coming in. It’s awesome.”
Dressed in a “Clayton’s Crew’’ T-shirt, Mahler attended the scrimmage without Clayton, who had just gone through a round of chemotherapy and was unable to attend. Mahler said Clayton is on his way to recovery but his immune system is still fragile.
“When Coach Kupcik called me with this idea I was blown away”’ Mahler said. “This is awesome. With things like this, you really realize what the coaching community is all about. You try to make an impact on kids lives and then they make an impact on you.”
Each scrimmage consisted of one 15-minute quarter. No team scored more than Hernando, which surprised River Ridge 16-6. David Hale Bronson had a long touchdown run and Shemar Lawson ran back a kickoff after the Leopards scored on a safety. And coach Bill Vonada was complimentary about the offensive line.
“Saw a lot of good things,” Vonada said. “Of course the coach only sees the one tire that’s flat. We’ll go work on pumping up that flat tire.”
Hernando does not play a preseason game. The Leopards open the regular season on Aug. 25 against Fivay.
A new approach
Nature Coast’s makeup on offense is the same: a beefy offensive line, a handful of speedy backs and an elusive quarterback.
The philosophy is the same, too. The Sharks, under new coach Cory Johns, are still going to run the ball.
The only difference is how they do it.
Instead of relying mostly on the Wildcat, Nature Coast also will incorporate the I-formation to stick to its earthbound approach.
The blocking schemes remain the same, a plus for a veteran line that is the strength of the offense. The challenge lies with a revamped backfield. Running back TJ Owens (1,555 yards last season) and Wildcat quarterback Brian Haygood (967 yards) are both gone. Michael Weston takes over as the workhorse back and Fabian Burnett as the multidimensional quarterback.
In Saturday’s scrimmage, the offense put its new design to the test. The Sharks went down the field on their opening drive, scoring the game’s only touchdown. Burnett broke off a few big gainers throughout the quarter, leading Nature Coast to an 8-0 win over Sunlake.
“We didn’t do a whole lot of new stuff today because there are a lot of people here and they don’t need to see what we’re doing,” Johns said. “I ran some of (former coach Justin) Worden’s old stuff, but when we get into our offense it’ll be a little different with a change in formations and just trying to throw the defense a little bit.
“There’s a learning curve is still there for the skills guys but they’re doing a great job. We’ve got some good ones. The ones that left must have been really good because the ones that are here still pretty strong.”
Wiregrass Ranch doesn’t have one running back to replace Da Da Magee, who transferred to Hillsborough.
The Bulls have many.
There is Mason Buie, a move-in from Jacksonville, and Chase Oliver, a fullback who can run and catch. Throw in Jordan Miner, a Penn State recruit who will line up at quarterback in various formations as a dual threat, and it is easy to see Wiregrass Ranch still has plenty of weapons.
“We might not a 1,000-yard back, but we’ll have about three or four dudes who can spread the wealth around,” Bulls coach Mark Kantor said.
On Saturday, the offense put up more than 100 yards of offense in a 7-0 win over Weeki Wachee. It did not come all on the ground. Grant Sessums, the younger brother of former Tampa Catholic quarterback Austin Sessums, hit several receivers to show off some of the balance on offense.
“We’re going to get after it,” Kantor said.
Yes, Gulf has not won a football game in two seasons. But first-year coach Jason Grain is still optimistic. Even after losing the one-quarter scrimmage 7-0 to Bishop McLaughlin. Linebacker/fullback John Jukas looked good on both sides of the ball and should be a handful for defenses this season.
“He just keep making plays,” Grain said. “We put him on offense this year because of his athleticism. He was definitely our best player today.”