BROOKSVILLE — Outwardly, nothing appears unusual about the spring football practices at Nature Coast, Land O'Lakes and Wiregrass Ranch. Coaches bark, players collide and humidity soars. Everything, it seems, is in order.
Actually, it's in limbo. This spring, the Sharks, Gators and Bulls are being led by interim staffs. And while hopeful someone from within will be hired as coach, all are bracing for the chance that someone from outside will be chosen, bringing his own system and potentially negating anything accomplished this spring.
So how are these "for-now" coaches coping? How are they getting dozens of teenagers to follow them down what may or may not be a dead end? We visited each camp to find out:
Former coach: John Benedetto, who stepped down after 32 seasons when his teaching contract wasn't extended
Interim coach: Longtime assistant Tom Carter, a 1984 Land O'Lakes graduate, is running the offense. Al Claggett, a Benedetto assistant from Day 1, remains defensive coordinator for now.
Player turnout: Carter reports 64 have come out.
Chances a current staffer will get the job: 50-50. Benedetto, his veteran assistants and many players endorse Carter, a 21-year staffer who works at the school. Carter, however, says he has been given no indication of his future from new principal Ric Mellin.
Observations: The presence of Benedetto's longest tenured assistants — Carter, Claggett, Rock Ridgeway and Bill Gebauer — clearly has brought a large degree of order and enthusiasm to practices. This is no monthlong focus on fundamentals; the coaches are installing plays and tweaking schemes as if they're going to be around in the fall. At this stage of spring, Carter said, a handful of players typically have quit. That hasn't happened yet.
Audible: "We keep positive, keep everybody positive because there's still a lot of uncertainties. The kids are working with Coach Claggett defensively and myself offensively, and there's a possibility neither one of us will be running the show next year." — Carter
Former coach: Ricky Thomas, who resigned in April to devote more time to his family
Interim coach: Jeremy Shobe, the Bulls defensive coordinator
Player turnout: Forty-six suited up for Monday's practice, two days after an intense afternoon scrimmage.
Chances a current staffer will get the job: Excellent. Shobe, a finalist for the Zephyrhills job that went to Jerrell Cogmon, already has interviewed for the Bulls vacancy. A 32-year-old physical education teacher at Wiregrass Ranch, he has known most of his players — and their parents — since they were middle-schoolers.
Observations: This may have been the most enthusiastic camp we've seen so far. The Bulls responded in charged unison to each of Shobe's commands — and that was just during stretching. Including Shobe, three of Thomas' former assistants remain on staff, joined this spring by two coaches who arrived next door from Long Middle School. Shobe said when he asked principal Ray Bonti how he should approach spring drills, Bonti told him to "just run everything as if you're taking over." Shobe is doing just that, taking charge of everything from the selection of assistants to seeking "academic coaches" from the faculty.
Audible: "Right away, you could tell the attitude and discipline snapped into place. It's been good." — Shobe
Former coach: Jamie Joyner, who resigned April 13 (while on suspension with pay) amid a school district investigation into his relationship with an 18-year-old female student
Interim coach: Charles Liggett, Joyner's defensive coordinator
Player turnout: Liggett said 74 have come out.
Chances a current staffer will get the job: Hard to say. Liggett interviewed Tuesday and seems to have the support of the Sharks staff. County athletic director Sonya Jackson, who becomes Nature Coast's new principal later this summer, did not return a phone message.
Observations: Aside from Tuesday's rain that forced the team indoors, and tailback Antwan Story's sore hamstring, Liggett characterized the first week and a half of spring drills as "smooth." All of Joyner's assistants remain on board, and they're conducting spring as if they'll still be around in the fall. "So far it's gone really well," Liggett said. "Practice itself is pretty much all the same; there's no reason to change something that's working."
Audible: "The goal was to give the kids as stable and solid and normal a spring as possible so they feel the hard work they're putting in right now for the spring will be for the fall." — Liggett