Prep football coaches always on prowl for players
The criteria is simple, says East Bay High football coach Frank LaRosa.
“You're looking for the head above everybody else's,” he said.
For several months during the school year, LaRosa scouts the hallways at East Bay in search of potential players. He looks for size and a good body frame. Also the physical education coach at East Bay, he looks for students who display speed and agility in class exercises.
Then he hits them with the sales pitch.
“You ever think about coming out for football?”
Football is a numbers game and coaches are always in need of depth. And with spring football under way, many coaches around Hillsborough County are hoping the “hallway kids” they persuaded to join the team will last through the end of the month. If all goes well, they'll see them continuously throughout the summer and at the start of fall practice.
“I'm hoping we find one in this year's group,” LaRosa said.
Spring football is the continuation of the regular season. Teams across Florida are allowed 20 practice sessions, which includes a spring jamboree game, until the end of May.
Coaches say the typical undiscovered player either stopped playing after youth league or never played at all, either because of commitments to other sports, activities or academics. In some cases, the students were not permitted by their parents.
“You're always looking for the big kid,” said Strawberry Crest coach John Kelly. “Everybody is looking for extra bodies on the offensive and defensive line. A lot of youth leagues around now, you don't see a lot of big kids because they have weight limits.”
At Bloomingdale, head coach John Booth and three of his assistants, who all teach on campus, start scouting the hallways, cafeteria and courtyard for potential players in January. Finding them, Booth said, is the easy part. Getting them to stay is the challenge.
“We call them 'two-day' kids,” said Booth, who like LaRosa, is a physical education teacher. “After two days, they find out it's too hot and too hard and we don't see them again.”
“You have to find out their commitment level,” Kelly said. “Are they willing to go through an 11- to 12-month grind of being in the weight room?”
If the student decides to stay, the finished product can be quite effective. At East Bay, LaRosa helped an inexperienced agricultural student become a starting offensive lineman. Kelly persuaded a 6-foot-6 student from the school's International Baccalaureate program to try out. That student eventually became a factor on the defensive line.
“The easy part is teaching them how to play football,” Booth said.
Armwood, Lennard, Freedom, Middleton, Newsome, Plant and Steinbrenner are hosting spring jamborees for county public schools on May 23 at 6:30 p.m. Four schools are designated to each site, with teams playing two quarters each.
“I talk to everybody,” LaRosa said. “You never know. I leave no stone unturned. You just ask them all to come out and hope they all have a good experience.”