SPRING HILL — Less than 45 minutes into Springstead’s opening day of spring practice, three players fell atop coach Mike Garofano’s practice plans.
“Get off my clipboard,” Garofano said.
Now more than ever, Garofano needs those notes.
Garofano spent more than a decade as an assistant under Bill Vonada before being promoted in the offseason to replace the North Suncoast’s longest-tenured coach. Garofano’s tenure began Wednesday with 70 players, drizzly skies and few major philosophical changes.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel and changing too much around here,” Garofano said. “We know what got us a district title last year, and it wasn’t on sheer athleticism. It was on hard work, effort and just getting after it.”
The Eagles’ tenets remain the same as the ones Vonada employed over 15 seasons to take Springstead to four playoff appearances and last fall’s district title — the school’s first since 1996.
Like Vonada, Garofano preaches discipline and fundamentals and emphasizes flying to the ball to force turnovers. But some differences became clear, too. Garofano plans to spend more time on one-on-one drills and fostering competition. Even without pads Wednesday, his squad focused on being physical, from stripping ballcarriers to pounding through foam pads.
“It’s gonna be physical,” Garofano said. “It’s gonna be demanding.”
Quarterback Tyler Mahla said his teammates respect Garofano because of his strong work ethic and the wonders he displayed with last year’s dominant defense. One other perk: Garofano seems slightly more relaxed than Vonada, which could lead to a looser locker room.
“He’s exactly what we need,” Mahla said.
The biggest difference on Day One came in Garofano’s duties.
Last year as the defensive coordinator, his responsibilities centered on that unit. But in one practice as a head coach, he roamed the field, from linemen to skill players, checking every detail and drill.
“It was definitely different for me …” Garofano said. “I liked it.”
Gators ready to rebound
A little drizzle wasn’t going to keep Land O’Lakes coach Brian Wachtel’s team off the field. It certainly made the practice-ending wind sprints as tolerable as possible.
“I thought it was gonna be worse,” said Gators receiver Kamal Wells, who had some head-turning catches and was among the leaders at the end when everyone on the roster lined up for eight 40-yard sprints.
After a disappointing 4-6 season, Wachtel is excited about a handful of new players who didn’t come out for football last season.
And his goals for the spring are clear.
“Teaching,” Wachtel said. “Twenty days of teaching. I loved the enthusiasm today, and we’ve got a fully assembled coaching staff. It’s exciting.”
The Gators face Pasco in their spring game May 23.
Nature Coast senior RB C.J. Maner, a top candidate to replace Georgia Southern-bound star Matt Breida for snaps in the backfield, missed the first day of practice because of a back injury he sustained during offseason weightlifting. Maner ran for 86 yards in two games last season, including 76 on 17 carries against Central.
Springstead DL Jesse Cowan participated with a black cast less than two weeks after having screws inserted into his wrist.
“He’s out there with a cast on his hand, and he’s lighting people up already,” Garofano said.
Cowan, who finished fifth in last month’s Class 2A state weightlifting finals, had 78 tackles and a team-high six sacks in 2012.
Play of the day
Springstead LB Conor Ross had a highlight-reel interception during an offensive drill. He snared an errant pass with his left hand — while holding a blocking pad with the other.
Tweet of the day
Hudson QB Joey Caruso (@QbCaruso): “Football is here!”
Correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Darek Sharp contributed to this report.