One summer hasn't turned the Plant City High football team into a wily cast of veterans.
The Raiders will still be fielding one of the least experienced football teams among the area's bigger schools.
But man, does their head coach feel a lot better these days.
Offseason momentum, not all of it based on football-related activity, has carried over into the first days of practice.
"It's reassuring," said Plant City coach Wayne Ward on Monday. "Seeing these guys progress every day, very reassuring. They really, really practice hard."
He had, frankly, some need for reassurance considering the team will replace more than half of last year's starters.
There are several seniors for Ward to turn to, and while the school traditionally produces high-level skilled players, Plant City's most notable athlete at the moment anchors the defensive line.
Meet Devyn Salmon, a senior who checks in at an imposing 6-foot-1, 285 pounds. After a spring and summer where he turned heads at various camps, particularly showcases in Orlando and Gainesville, Salmon recently gave his verbal commitment to Michigan State University.
And MSU didn't even need to have him see the campus.
"I haven't visited the school yet," Salmon said. "Denzel Drone (former Raider, now at MSU) told me all about it. He said they're 'straight dawgs' on that line there."
"Straight" is one of Salmon's favorite adjectives. Asked to describe his performance at offseason camps, it happens to coincide with his plan of attack for when the season begins: "straight dominate."
For Ward's purposes he'll take more of a straight line.
"Devyn has to focus, regardless of the (scholarship) offers," Ward said. "And he's starting to do that. If he finishes strong here, he'll have a great season for us."
Salmon says knowing he has a future college home squared away won't affect his focus on the field.
One of the key decisions for Ward to make involves Salmon's speedier Raider teammates. Right now one senior and two freshmen are jockeying to become the starting tailback, the position held down by standout Daz Patterson the past three years.
Ward says freshman Irving Michael reminds him of Patterson, and another ninth-grader, Sterling Day, has a more curious resemblance.
"He reminds me of myself," said Ward, who set Plant City rushing records before his senior season (1995-96) came to a close. "He has a thirst for knowledge. It's hard to keep him off the field."
Jontavia Sykes, more of a bruiser, is the senior vying to carry the ball.
The quarterback position is also undecided but Ward loves the leadership qualities shown by seniors Nick Rodriguez and junior Landon Galloway.
Both players showed what they were made of when the Raiders travelled to Vero Beach for a two-day "boot camp" this month.
That experience, where the Raiders did a lot more than just work on football plays, has boosted Ward's enthusiasm through the roof.
"It was so challenging physically, spiritually and emotionally. They had a 2 a.m. wakeup call to practice, and turn around and had one at 6 a.m. It was really taxing. They held strong when it could have fallen apart."
Ward added that linemen Montel McBride and Dustyn Hart stood out as leaders during the various drills, both on field and off.
Plant City is preparing for its Aug. 24 preseason game against Hillsborough.
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]