Getting back to normal has become a familiar theme in all walks life over the past few months.
Last year, Citrus County’s high school football squads missed out on spring football, experienced a restricted summer and then a truncated regular season. That made the last several weeks of a more routine spring unusually special.
"I think this spring was unique in the fact we didn’t have one the previous spring," Crystal River head coach Cliff Lohrey said. "It was a good opportunity to get guys back together. It doesn’t solidify anything going into the fall. We had a few guys out with injuries, out for personal reasons. It forces guys to step up."
Now the players and coaches can benefit from a summer where they can train in a more typical fashion and prepare for a full season that, barring the unexpected, should start on time.
"We just know we have to hit the floor running," Citrus head coach McKinley Franklin said. "Knowing that first game is August 20th, we’re not pushing the season away, not moving it, and we’re going to have a season. Knowing that we’re not going to deal with that aspect this year, it’s a big stress relief."
"It’s going to be huge," Lecanto head coach Wyndell "Chop" Alexander said. "Last year we had so many restrictions. This year there won’t be as much. We’re ready to get a bigger group out there and I’ll be able to monitor all of them at one time."
Here’s a look back at how each team performed in their spring exhibitions and a look forward to the areas they’ll need to address by the time the season arrives.
The Hurricanes took part in a three-team jamboree at Weeki Wachee on May 27, playing two quarters apiece against Braden River (3-0 loss) and the host Hornets (14-0 win).
"We learned that they’ll work hard," Franklin said. "These kids were determined to come back and put in the work to get better."
Franklin was in his first year as headman in 2020 and the Hurricanes went 1-7 while trying to overcome numerous personnel losses from the prior playoff season.
"The biggest question that I had was for myself. Can I and my staff change the culture of the program to what it needs to be?" Franklin said. "I’m not saying we’re there yet, but I feel like the culture of the program has changed. The kids want to be here, they want to work hard and they want to play for their school.
"The next step is getting bigger, stronger and faster. We need to continue to work on the fundamentals of the game. If you put the fundamentals all the together you’ll get good results."
The Pirates traveled down to Anclote for a spring classic on May 21 and looked impressive in a 21-0 victory.
"Being young and inexperienced, we don’t believe in that at Crystal River. You’ve got to be ready when your name is called," said Lohrey, whose team went 3-4 last season. "We got a chance to see what we have for the fall, knowing guys have got to battle all season long."
Triston West, who will be a senior, started at quarterback and had a 30-yard touchdown run, then later completed a 37-yard pass to set up another score.
"I think Triston West did a really good job at quarterback," Lohrey said. "That does not mean the position is his to lose, but I thought he did a lot of good things in the game. Even the mistakes I thought were a result of being too aggressive. I’m really pleased with the way he played in the spring game.
"Defensively we’ve got to solidify the linebacker corp. We’ve got to find four guys who can go downhill and hit you if you’re 200 pounds or 230 pounds. We’ve got a bunch of guys battling for those four spots and may the best four guys win."
The Panthers traveled to Union County on May 20 and absorbed a 54-6 loss.
"I learned that I’ve got kids who can play various positions," Alexander said. "A lot of them played certain position in the fall and we challenged them and made them play other positions, and they were able to step up and fill different shoes."
Lecanto is coming off one of the better season ever, finishing 4-3 in Alexander’s first year at the helm. However, Alexander admitted the Panthers were thin numbers-wise, struggling to get guys out for the spring.
They’re also in the midst of installing a new offense under new offensive coordinator Bobby Rast, a veteran coach who has worked with a variety of schools around the state.
"We’re going to try to get better, polish up the defense and try to get better in the offseason," Alexander said.
Seven Rivers Christian
Due to injuries and other issues, the Warrior (4-5 in 2020) had just 11 players available for a jamboree they hosted on May 15. Playing a quarter apiece, they lost 14-6 to Ocala Christian, 22-12 to Mount Dora Christian and 14-8 to Indian Rocks Christian.
One player missing was All-Chronicle quarterback Nehemiah Vann, who broke his leg at the end of soccer season. Vann, who will be a junior, threw for 1,585 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.
"I learned that the quarterback position is very important and that our guys are really tough," Seven Rivers head coach Monty Vann said. "We have a great culture with our team and a lot of our older guys were helping out the younger guys get better. Some concerns I have is always our depth and who we will have. Even though it is better than what it was it is always going to be a concern.
"Nehemiah is doing great even with a broken leg and the kids are still throwing a lot. Nehemiah spent spring working on our next quarterbacks and coaching them up. He did a great job with (backup QB) J.T. Tipton and getting him ready for the spring game."