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For Hillsborough County’s two youngest public school football programs, the initial year of existence hardly has been followed by the Terrible Twos. To the contrary, Steinbrenner and Strawberry Crest already have five victories between them in 2010 and remain in playoff contention. While a feathery schedule partially explains the teams’ progress, few will argue the Warriors and Chargers also have improved in terms of skill and strength. Here’s a closer look at the ongoing evolution of both.
Year 1 record (varsity only)
Strawberry Crest: 1-5
Year 2 record
Strawberry Crest: 3-2
Steinbrenner: 13-7 vs. Bloomingdale (Oct. 1, 2010). The Warriors topped fellow first-year program Strawberry Crest 16-8 in both programs’ inaugural game, but technically it was a JV contest.
Strawberry Crest: 32-27 over Steinbrenner (Oct. 23, 2009)
First win against non-established school
Steinbrenner: See first win
Strawberry Crest: 48-0 over Keswick Christian (Sept. 16, 2010), but its landmark is a 45-44 win over SPC on Oct. 1, a game in which the Chargers were down 19 in the game’s final five minutes.
Realistic goal for Year 1
Steinbrenner: That’s simple. “Survive,” coach Floyd Graham said. Subtract the 32-27 varsity loss to Strawberry Crest last October, and the Warriors — with no senior class — were outscored 237-17 in five varsity games.
Strawberry Crest: Form the foundation of a successful program by teaching inexperienced player fundamentals and focusing on what it takes to be successful on and off the field. Beat Steinbrenner.
Realistic goal for Year 2
Steinbrenner: Improvement, which the Warriors have shown. Case in point: last week’s 31-14 win against St. Petersburg Catholic. Last year, the Barons trounced Steinbrenner 40-10. “That’s one thing I’m very happy with,” said Graham, who has had 14 players sidelined by injuries already this year. “We’re a lot better and we went through a lot of adversity with all the injuries we had. I wish we could go back to Week 1 with everybody being healthy.”
Strawberry Crest: Play competitively within arguably the area’s most competitive district top to bottom (2A-5). Earn wins over other newer schools Anclote (37-21) and Palm Bay Heritage (21-6 in kickoff classic).
Year 1/Year 2 difference
Steinbrenner: Strength, experience and the addition of former Jesuit coach Joe Ross as defensive coordinator. The Warriors, who had no player capable of bench-pressing 225 pounds this time last year, now have nearly two dozen. As for Ross, Graham says the 36-year coaching veteran “has forgotten more than I’ll ever know. He makes my job easy.”
Strawberry Crest: “The difference has been our conditioning,” coach Todd Donohoe said. “Our kids are stronger and in better shape and they know a lot more about football and the fundamentals. In our first year, we didn’t know too much. Our kids know the X’s and O’s and our kids are in shape. They know what to do. Now it’s just a matter of making tackles and staying on their blocks.” Donohoe said that when preseason weightlifting tests were done, four players could bench 200 pounds. That number has ballooned to 35.
First potential college signee
Steinbrenner: WR/TE Tobi Antigha. Strong and rangy (6-foot-3, 218 pounds), Antigha’s soft hands and physical upside should draw looks from the next level.
Strawberry Crest: WR/PR/KR Donnardo Fields, at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, has 4.4 40 speed and a knack for the big play. He averages 32.3 yards a catch and has touchdown receptions of 79 and 59 yards. Donohoe also says RB Tommy Herrera can play at the next level. The 5-8, 170-pound senior is undersized, but Donohoe raves about his toughness and quickness.
Steinbrenner: Pretty darned rosy, though Steinbrenner is bound to move up a classification or two from Class 2A when district realignment occurs in the offseason. Antigha is the only senior starter on offense, and a handful of freshmen, including quarterback Curtis Fitch and Shayheem Barthel, are only starting to blossom. The defense will take a hit, but Graham’s philosophy has always been to shift his best 11 players to defense.
Strawberry Crest: Donohoe said Strawberry Crest is already a capped school, so district realignment next year could move it up to 4A or 5A, which might be good for it because many of those districts are top heavy. Also, it will start to draw more true football players from Durant, Plant City and Armwood. Several current seniors at those schools had the option of staying.
Eduardo A. Encina and Joey Knight, Times staff writers