Raiders forge bond at 'boot camp'
The cliches about camaraderie usually are a dead giveaway. When a prep football coach cites unity as his team's best attribute, it's often because he has no other strengths to emphasize.
On Friday, Plant City's Wayne Ward, who graduated 22 seniors from his 2011 team, was the latest to play the chemistry card. But darned if we don't buy what he's selling.
Maybe it's because Ward, entering his third season, is among the county's straighest shooters. Or perhaps it's because of the excruciating 48 hours his staff and 36 players spent last weekend at Vero Beach, where the Raiders ate, bunked, marched, lifted and laughed together.
"It was an awesome experience," Ward said.
In what he plans to make an annual excursion, Ward and the Raiders traveled to Vero Beach Sports Village -- where USF holds its preseason camp -- for a de facto boot camp. New strength and conditioning coach Andrew McNair, a reserve in the Marines, handled most of the grueling itinerary.
The Raiders, who slept four to a villa, marched everywhere. Roll calls were done on the hour. On their first morning, the players were up by 2 a.m., with bedtime at 8:30 p.m. They tested McNair on the lights-out part.
"At 8:31 we were outside," senior WR Joseph Davis said.
In the 20 or so hours in between, the Raiders were put through torturous weight-room workouts, outdoor conditioning and individual position drills. In all, Ward said the Raiders had 10 practices in two days, capped by a "Gong Show" the final evening and horseplay at poolside.
"It was just what the doctor ordered," Ward said, "because just with the youth of our team it let us find out who we are."
And just who are these Raiders? A collection of unheralded, mostly unproven kids thirsting to make a statement. Plant City, 7-3 last season, has youth in critical positions (including tailback), a quarterback competition (between junior Landon Galloway and senior Nick Rodriguez) and only five returning starters on each side.
But the Raiders do have chemistry.
In this case, that's a plus.