SPRING HILL — So many prep teams have an outside-in philosophy. They look for talented skill position players and game breakers before addressing needs in the trenches.
The glamour positions have never been a priority for Springstead. The inside-out philosophy has worked for the Eagles for years and is much of the reason they reached the region finals last season.
Sixteen seniors will graduate from that squad, including star quarterback Tyler Mahla, but the focus lies on key losses to the offensive and defensive fronts. Jesse Cowan, tied for second on the team with 100 tackles in 2013, did so from the defensive tackle position. Travis O’Neil and Shane Wiggins, two high-energy defensive ends, combined for 143 tackles and 10 sacks.
Austin Stock and Jordan Rivera were standouts in the linebacking corps due to good instincts and intensity. That duo leaves behind 139 tackles.
On the offensive line, three of the five interior starters remain, but Springstead also loses an integral blocker in the run game in tight end Tyler Anderson. Mike Miara and Jameson Peppe were the two senior leaders on the line at right tackle and right guard.
These voids are the coaching staff’s main concern heading into the fall. On defense, where second-year coach Mike Garofano earned his reputation as the team’s coordinator from 2002-2012, two major returners at linebacker won’t be suiting up this spring. Juan Espinosa (100 tackles, three sacks) and Conor Ross (team-high 114 tackles, six sacks) are still rehabbing injuries sustained late last season.
That leaves Robert Holdway (100 tackles, three sacks) and Dylan McLeod (78 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions) as the elder statesmen on that side. Garofano sees good things coming from the incoming group.
Defensive linemen Eric Stevens, Zack Lawrence and Martin Rivera have stepped to the forefront this spring, while linebackers Jake Lewandowski, Julian Escoda and Jakari Jones have earned some attention as well.
“There is no secure spot yet because we’re still evaluating,” Garofano said. “As long as we play Springstead football, we’ll be alright. We need to get after it and force turnovers.”
Filling the right side positions on the offensive line will be Dominic Lamagno — who actually started one game at center last season at Mitchell — at guard, and Donovan Giles at tackle. With Hunter Hramika and James Kern teaming up to man one whole side, some stability is already in place.
“The line is jelling right now, and they have been able to trust each other,” Garofano said. “I always feel like that’s the most important thing up front, knowing that the guy next to you has your back.”
With the spring game Thursday against Anclote approaching, it all boils down to the same philosophy the Eagles have leaned on for years: no mistakes.
“We have to win the turnover battle,” Garofano said. “That’s mean we have to take care of the ball on offense and force them on defense. If we do that, we won’t miss a beat.’’
New back at Hudson
The Cobras completed one of Tampa Bay’s biggest turnarounds by reaching the playoffs last year, two years removed from back-to-back winless seasons. One of the biggest reasons why — running back Noah Siegrist and his 1,400 yards — is gone.
His replacement will be Billy Werner, a physically and mentally tough back who saw limited action as a sophomore last fall. He’ll run behind a strong offensive line that returns four of its five starters.
“He runs downhill, which we really like,” coach Mark Kantor said. “Hopefully as the carries go on, he’ll get stronger as the game develops. We’re really excited about him.”
After watching Pasco edge Land O’Lakes in the spring game last week, Rutgers offered a pair of Pirate prospects for the class of 2016. The Scarlet Knights were the first offer for athlete Jayvaughn Myers and the second for offensive tackle Jamal Mention, a 313-pound mountain.
Staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.