After its playoff loss to a Cocoa team which went on to win the state championship, the Dunnellon High School football team took one week off for Thanksgiving and then immediately went back to work. The Tigers are returning 19 of 22 starters, and they’re eagerly preparing to resolve unfinished business after a season of growing pains.

“I know everybody says this, but it’s by far the best offseason we’ve ever had in the 17 years that I’ve been here,” said Tommy Sutton, a former longtime DHS assistant who succeeded Price Harris last year as head coach. “The kids bought in, (and there was) a lot of community support. I fed them everyday after the workouts, so we’re physically a lot different, which is what it’s going to take for us to take that next step.”

The Tigers jumped out to a 5-2 start last fall, which included a one-point overtime loss to Vanguard, but then faced three top-five teams in four games before finishing 5-6. They made the playoffs for the eighth straight year.

“I told the team after the Cocoa game, ‘Now you’ve seen it, you’ve seen what it looks like.’ And they used that to fuel their offseason. I cannot be more proud of the work that’s been put in, now it’s got to transfer over to the grass.”

The Tigers get a chance to show off their development next Thursday, May 25, for their spring game in Chiefland.

Sutton said the competition at each position has added excitement to spring practices.

“Right now we’re very deep, we have a ton of position battles, which is fun,” Sutton said. “When you walk out here, you’re fighting for your job. That makes for high-intensity practices.”

Sutton was an assistant coach in Chiefland, and current Dunnellon assistant Aaron Richardson was a head coach in Chiefland from 2012 to 2016.

Sutton said there’s still plenty of work ahead for the Tigers.

“I’m proud of what we did, making the playoffs in year one, but we know there’s more meat on the bone.”

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