A coach's shout echoed across Nature Coast practice, announcing the final play of the afternoon. Get through it and the next snap would come in the following night's season opener.
C.J. Baker, who was tabbed to start for the JV last season, never got that snap.
He still recalls that final practice play, a jarring hit that destroyed the posterior cruciate ligament in his left leg and forced him to miss most of the season. He made it back for a few games at the end of the year, and upon his return he broke loose on his first play for a touchdown.
"That jump-started everything," said Baker, who is looking ahead to his junior year. "I love playing. Nothing's going to stop me from playing football."
That passion won Baker the starting varsity quarterback job. He has shown little, if any, effects from the ligament tear that requires a brace for stability and protection.
Baker becomes Nature Coast's third starter in three years, replacing Stephen Pelaez, who was a major component to last year's 7-4 finish. Pelaez was the team's second-leading rusher with 827 yards and five touchdowns in an option offense.
"We lost a home run hitter, a guy who could take it the distance," Nature Coast coach Jamie Joyner said. "He was the best athlete to come through our program overall. He was an explosive guy. We're not going to ask C.J. to be that guy, we're just asking him to run the offense."
Throughout spring practice and now in a North Suncoast seven-on-seven league, Baker has shown the ability to make key decisions. He calls audibles at the right times and keeps his composure under pressure.
"It won't be any different," Sharks receiver Eric Williams said. "Me and C.J. have always been close ever since we were on JV. We've got that friendship, whatever he throws to me I'll catch it."
The tools combined with the lead-by-example mentality are the main reasons Baker is primed to lead the offense the next two seasons, finally bringing stability to the position. Baker will primarily be used in the running attack, but he hopes the seven-on-seven league might lead to more passing in the fall, something Joyner has said is possible.
"His work ethic since January and his ability to run the veer has set him apart," Joyner said. "He really understands what we're doing."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 580-5315.