The stretching and special teams work have concluded Friday afternoon at Brandon’s practice when a late arrival, Mario Rodriguez, jogs onto the McLane Stadium field in full pads and presents a signed index card to coach Dean Eychner.
“Tutoring?” Eychner asks, gazing at the card with the teacher’s signature.
“Uh, lab,” Rodriguez responds. “I had to dissect a frog.”
That brief exchange, as much as anything, may symbolize the forward progress of Eychner’s reclamation project at one of the county’s oldest schools. Brandon enjoyed pockets of success — including an 11-2 record in 2010 — but little consistency under former coach John Lima.
Now, using a whistle instead of a scalpel, Eychner, former longtime Hillsborough defensive coordinator, is cutting away the ambivalence and disarray he says have afflicted the program, and transplanting pride, accountability and compassion.
More than 50 are participating this spring, about the same number as May 2012. The difference: Nearly two dozen had to be run off a year ago, when the notion of a kid presenting a signed reason for his tardiness would’ve seemed an aberration.
“I just think we’re in a better place,” said Eychner, whose first Eagles team finished 1-9 in 2012.
“We don’t have the flash of Plant or these other teams, but I think we’ve got a bunch of kids who care about each other. And I know we’ve got coaches who care about them. We’ve got a community that’s starting to come forward again. Brandon’s 100 years old this year.”
By the numbers
3 Members of Brandon’s staff, including Eychner, with head coaching experience in Hillsborough County. Veteran Jim Wilt (East Bay, Durant, Brandon, Lennard) is offensive coordinator, and George Edington (Lennard) is an offensive assistant
4.8 Weighted GPA of Robinson rising junior RB Aivory Foster, once a part of the school’s International Baccalaureate program. Foster has been named a Knights “lieutenant captain.”
5.19 Weighted GPA of Brandon rising senior WR Allen Lewis, among Eychner’s prized projects. “Last year when we got him, he couldn’t even tie his shoe,” Eychner said. “Now he’s probably going to end up starting for us.”
85 Tackles last season for Brandon rising senior LB John Gianino (6 feet, 205 pounds), who could start at fullback, linebacker and punter for the Eagles in 2013
175 Weight of Seffner Christian rising junior Marcus Richardson, who again will double at running back and nose guard. “He’s not as chunky as he was last year,” Crusaders coach Steve Lewis said, “but he’s plenty strong, plenty fast.”
“The intensity was divided between the white and the blue jerseys, but when we all get together, it’s going to be pretty special.” — Armwood coach Sean Callahan, addressing his team after its blue-white intrasquad game Friday, which ended with a goal-line stand by the first-team defense
Spring jamboree/game schedule
Carrollwood Day at Bishop McLaughlin, 7
Thursday (all contests at 6:30 unless noted)
Jamboree at Freedom (Freedom, King, Tampa Bay Tech, Wharton)
Jamboree at Middleton (Blake, Chamberlain, Hillsborough, Middleton)
Jamboree at Newsome (Bloomingdale, Brandon, Newsome, Tampa Catholic)
Jamboree at Armwood (Armwood, Durant, Plant City, Strawberry Crest)
Jamboree at Lennard (East Bay, Lennard, Riverview, Spoto)
Jamboree at Steinbrenner (Alonso, Gaither, Sickles, Steinbrenner)
Jamboree at Plant (Jefferson, Leto, Plant, Robinson)
Seffner Christian at Santa Fe Catholic, 7
Cambridge Christian at Calvary Christian, 7
Dixie Hollins at Jesuit, 7