Friday, September 21, 2018

Expect Springstead, Nature Coast to hit the ground running … and never stop

Here's a safe bet: Friday night's Nature Coast at Springstead rivalry game will be decided by the run. Both teams feature stellar rushing attacks, albeit with different philosophies.

Let's start with Springstead (2-0).

The Eagles entered last spring with two available running backs. That number swelled to five by the time the preseason game against Hudson arrived Aug. 16. Senior Nathan Sims is in his fourth year on varsity and runs the offense at quarterback. He gained 220 yards and scored three touchdowns in the opener against Central and added 135 yards against Weeki Wachee. He gained 806 yards rushing last season, so he is a known commodity.

Junior Adrian Cabrera also got a few touches at running back last season, but for the most part Sims was expected to carry the load. Then the offense got a big boost.

Senior Damian Giles was forced to miss his junior year due to health issues. He returned in the spring but did not play in the spring game due to another nagging injury. Now fully healthy, Giles gained 98 yards in the opener.

Junior Toby Rahman transferred from Weeki Wachee in the summer and has made an immediate impact. A bruising fullback, he has 121 yards rushing and a touchdown.

"I think this could be one of the best offenses we've had since I've been here," Sims said. "I've known Toby since we were little, so I know what he can do. And it's great having Damian back. So that gives us a lot of options on offense."

There could have been one more option, but junior Anthony Alexis broke his leg against Hudson in the preseason and is out for at least six weeks.
In the first two games, Springstead has thrown just four times in contrast to gaining 752 yards rushing.

"Run is definitely our forte," coach Mike Garofano said. "We have the ability to throw and teams have to honor that. But we do have a run-first mentality, move the chains, lunch-pail type team. We keep the clock moving and keep their offense off the field."

Nature Coast running back Michael Weston finds room to run during the first half of a game last season vs. Hernando. (Times file, 2017)

Then there is Nature Coast (1-1).

The Sharks like to use a feature back, mainly because they have had good ones in the recent past. This year it's Mike Weston, who is back after gaining 1,135 yards as a junior. Before that there was T.J. Owens. And before that there was Deshawn Smith and his 3,715 yards in 2015.

"To me, I wouldn't be that smart of a coach to have somebody that good who doesn't touch the ball more than anybody else," second-year Nature Coast coach Cory Johns said of Weston. "That's my philosophy anyway. It's Mike's show until he leaves."

Johns said reserve running back Issac Edwards has lots of potential, but he is only a sophomore and will get limited touches. Junior quarterback Fabian Burnett is also a threat to run.

Weston gained 292 yards in a season-opening loss to Orange Park Ridgeview. He carried 35 times against South Sumter last week and gained 307 yards and scored five touchdowns in a 41-20 win.

In two games, Weston has scored nine times. In last year's game against Springstead, he gained 165 yards in the win.

The Eagles will certainly know who is getting the ball when Nature Coast is on offense.

"In my mind, if they do know what's coming and can't stop it, that's even more demoralizing," Johns said. "It's real simple what we're doing, but if we block it correctly then the defense can't be right."

Two different run philosophies could equal plenty of points in this neighborhood rivalry.

"Nature Coast has always liked to feature one guy and we have never been like that," Garofano said. "We like to spread it around. It keeps guys interested instead of guys just sitting out there never seeing the ball. It keeps their head in the game, and it keeps teams honest."


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