Friends. Floridians. Sports fans — I come bearing good news:
Football season is back … sort of.
As I sit on my throne — aka my large, cushiony chair — watching the Alabama A-Day game, I soak in the spring football goodness that the sports gods have bestowed upon me.
Sure, regular-season football doesn’t start for another four excruciatingly long months, but at this point in the year, I’ll take whatever I can get.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love all sports with a passion — my TV has been showing MLB all afternoon — but there’s something about football that just does it for this good ol’ Southern boy. And I’m not alone.
Those in the local high-school football scene have been waiting for this moment since the postseason ended: It’s finally time for spring football.
“I’m excited for what the West Orange Warriors are going to be able to do this 2019 season,” said first-year head coach Dee Brown. “I’m not big into hoopla and giving bulletin-board material, but I know we will be ready to go.”
West Orange will get in its solo spring game against Viera at 7 p.m. Friday, May 17, but it’s really those practices beforehand Brown is anticipating the most.
The game itself is just kind of the icing on the cake — so to speak — for the players. It’s a reward, and a break, from hitting one another and offers a real-game experience.
But those practices — that’s where the real work gets done, Brown said. It’s the place where coaches get to see if a player has the drive to take it to the next level.
“It’s definitely important just for the overall growth of the individual athlete,” Brown said. “If you’re talking about being able to play at a high level … the spring is a vital part of it. You can see their growth and their weaknesses.”
That mindset is shared by coaches throughout the West Orange area, including at Ocoee High School.
Under head coach Aaron Sheppard, who went 5-6 in his first season last year, football is something that’s not simply in-season only — it’s a year-round passion. The season, off-season, spring season, recruiting — it’s all he thinks about.
“I’m excited for what the West Orange Warriors are going to be able to do this 2019 season. I’m not big into hoopla and giving bulletin-board material, but I know we will be ready to go.”
— Dee Brown
But going into this spring season — which includes a game against Lake Gibson Friday, May 17 — Sheppard has a new set of priorities on which to focus.
“It’s different now than last year — last year I was coming in and establishing it, and now I’m building it — so it’s a whole different process,” Sheppard said. “At one point, you’re building the house. And now that your house is built, you’re kind of cleaning your house and fine-tuning things — that’s where we are.”
Both Sheppard and Brown are looking to the spring football season. It’s during this time when the new guys are taught proper techniques, while the older guys put in more work to perfect those same fundamentals.
“I just want to make sure that this springtime, we actually get better,” Sheppard said. “That we use it to do what we want to do. Not that we didn’t last year, but I just want us to get better right now.”
Earlier, I mentioned a lot of the coaches said the spring game was mostly for the players, but there is an aspect tailor-made for coaches, too. Practice is essential, sure, but there’s nothing that can quite prepare an athlete more than playing against another team in a real-game scenario.
Will the outcome actually count? Not in the standings, no. But to see how a team and its players can compete? Absolutely.
“Anytime, as a coach, you can get your team in a game-like situation, it makes the anxiety less when those realities do come during the season,” Brown said. “Scrimmages and organized practices are all tools to do those things and kind of eliminate the mistakes that you cannot (have) on Friday night.”
For those who — like me — are now a tad bit more impatient for the start of football after reading this, hold steady and take a deep breath: We’re almost there.