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Sharks learn what it takes

Whether Nature Coast Tech truly has enough football skill to compete next year as a varsity program remains to be seen.

But give the Sharks this: they'll have momentum.

After a six-game losing streak in the middle of its inaugural season, played at the junior varsity level, Nature Coast rattled off two wins to close out a 3-6 campaign.

Coach Tom Keeler knows there is a lot of work to be done, though a 33-21 victory last week at St. Petersburg Catholic shows that a season's worth of work has paid off.

"Overall, it was our best effort," Keeler said. "A great way to end the season."

Learning and teaching were the dominant themes of the season for Sharks players and coaches, much more than winning. In the second half, Nature Coast began to resemble a team, and the results proved it.

"There was a lot of teaching with football, more than I've ever taught," Keeler said.

"These kids came in not knowing football. I've never spent so much time with blocking and tackling, the pure fundamentals of the game. But our kids kept getting better and better."

The season threw curveballs from the get-go, as the Sharks' first game against East Ridge was moved from Springstead to Clermont due to scheduling conflicts. Yet Nature Coast adjusted, loaded its powder blue-clad players onto buses and won on its very first try, 27-26 in overtime.

It might have looked easy, but for the following six weeks the Sharks got a more realistic dose of life as a first-year team. For 1{ months, Nature Coast failed to pick up win No. 2, though there were some close calls, including a five-overtime loss at Dunnellon and a one-point defeat at Central.

"There was a dry spell; we wondered where we were at," Keeler said. "But we all stuck together and finished the season. I can't ask for anything more."

A few steady influences on the team began to materialize, from junior Matt Brostrom on the defensive line to freshman David Kriner on the offensive line. Sophomore Mike Allen became the go-to guy in the backfield.

Keeler was slow to tag any of them "leaders," saying only time can allow those to emerge. Time, however, will pass quickly over the next year as Nature Coast prepares to enter state series competition next season. Keeler figures the school's size will lead to a Class 2A or 2B slot.

"It's not like we have two years to prepare," he said. "They're going to head right into a varsity schedule."

Until then, Keeler told his players to keep a football mentality in other sports.

"I encouraged them to play as many sports as they can; they're only in high school once," Keeler said. "I told them to be in every competitive situation they can. If they're playing basketball and get up to the free-throw line down one with no time left, that's the situation I want you in."

Whatever it takes to keep the momentum going.

_ John Schwarb can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1407. Send e-mail to