Excitement at Sunlake heading into playoffs
LAND O' LAKES - For Rashaud Daniels, walking the halls this week at Sunlake High for a few minutes at a time may be just as rewarding as the two or three hours he will be playing football Friday. The excitement that is building on Sunlake's campus for the Seahawks' first playoff game, at Ocala Vanguard (7-3), is palpable. Simply put, it was a feeling that few of the students and faculty members had ever envisioned for the team as recently as two years ago. "They basically remind us how important this game is," Daniels said. "It's a fun period because you could never see that three years ago at Sunlake, or two years ago. Back then the question was, 'Are you going to win your first game?' " One of the few that likely did see this coming, even back then, was Coach Bill Browning. This is the third different squad Browning has taken to the postseason, and the second school that he has guided to the postseason for the first time.The first was Spring Hill Springstead, which won its district in 1993 and played Gibbs. Browning said the atmosphere around campus was very similar, but he honestly didn't get to enjoy it, and for good reason. "The only difference between the two is, that week I was spending all my time trying to figure out a way to stop Shaun King," said Browning, referring to the retired NFL star who nearly reached a Super Bowl starting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I knew he was going to be a very special player." Browning went on to take Brooksville Hernando to the postseason five times, picking up his lone playoff win in 1997 against Inverness Citrus. His last playoff appearance was in 2002. He took the Sunlake job in 2007. While there may not be a Shaun King playing for Vanguard, they do have their fair share of talent. Free safety P.J. Williams has had a verbal commitment to attend Florida State since 2010 – his junior year. Williams is rarely used on offense, but he is averaging 39.3 yards per catch and 16 yards per carry when he does get the ball. Sophomore Deltron Modican has 830 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing, and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. And quarterback Cody Miller has averaged 139 passing yards, though he is not a threat to run the ball. Vanguard's real strength is their defense and fundamentals. They have only turned the ball over seven times in 10 games, and despite playing a difficult schedule, they held seven of their last nine opponents to 14 points or less. "They've won with defense and special teams," Browning said. "You know you've got to play to win, so [offensively] you don't want to get too conservative. It's about balance." "I think the key to playoff football is you don't want to play too tight. You have to play the way you've played the entire year. You also need to be prepared mentally to play all four quarters." Daniels sees this game as a chance to redeem himself after he missed the majority of Sunlake's only defeat this season, to Hernando 22-7. Daniels took a knee to the helmet and had to watch from the sidelines. "I see this as the first chance I'm going to have to go 100 percent all out on offense and defense for one game," Daniels said. "The Hernando game was big, but this is bigger."
Correspondent Bart O'Connell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter, with live updates from the Sunlake/Vanguard game @BartOTrib.