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Steinbrenner’s veteran squad ready to end playoff drought

“This is what we’ve all been waiting for. We feel like this is our year.”
Steinbrenner receiver Aidan Bitter is among 30 seniors on the roster.
Steinbrenner receiver Aidan Bitter is among 30 seniors on the roster. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Aug. 29, 2019
Updated Aug. 29, 2019

LUTZ — Aidan Bitter watched every game of Steinbrenner High’s greatest football season four years ago. He was there to support his older brother, Brett, a star on the team.

The Warriors went 9-2 in 2015 and made their first playoff appearance in school history.

Bitter, then an eighth-grader, was ready to continue what he thought would be a lengthy postseason run when he arrived at the school a year later.

That did not happen.

For the past three seasons, Steinbrenner won games, even had a pair of winning records. But no more trips to the postseason during that span.

Part of that was expected. The Warriors were rebuilding. Bitter, a receiver, along with several other incoming freshmen, became the foundation. They played on varsity right away. They took on prominent roles early in their high school careers.

They grew up. They got better — together.

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“We’re all pretty close,” Bitter said. “Some of us played varsity as freshmen or were promoted during the season. Others came up the following year. But we’re all close. We were friends even with the guys who were still on junior varsity.”

Now, Steinbrenner has a veteran team. There are 30 seniors on the roster, most of whom start.

The Warriors believe that experience will pay off.

They are poised to return to the postseason.

“This is what we’ve all been waiting for,” Bitter said. “We feel like this is our year.”

It starts with the 2020 class. Quarterback Haden Carlson, who has already committed to Florida International, is back. So is offensive linemen Matt Adcock, another top-level college prospect.

And, course, Bitter, an Iowa State recruit who led the team in receiving yards (568) and receiving touchdowns (six).

“We got tired of not getting it done,” Adcock said. “We could end up having something special this year, especially with what we have coming back.”

The senior leadership extends to the defense, too. Jose Bautista (70 tackles last season) returns, along with Cameron Brown, Sam Clark and Greyson Linnell.

The pieces are in place. All Steinbrenner has to do is believe.

After starting last season 2-5, the Warriors gained confidence by winning their final four contests, culminating with a 34-21 victory over East Lake in a bowl that Bitter considers the turning point.

“We just played really well in that bowl game against East Lake,” Bitter said. “That was something we were able to build off of.”

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The momentum continued in the spring with a 28-7 win over Sickles, a playoff team from a year ago. Steinbrenner kept it going with an impressive 68-0 victory over Freedom in last week’s season opener. The Warriors play at Sickles again on Friday.

Because of their recent success, the Warriors are aiming for more than just a playoff appearance.

They want to win the school’s first district title.

To do that, Steinbrenner likely will have to get past Plant on Oct. 4. The Panthers have not only won 14 straight district titles. They have never dropped a district game during that streak.

“We have that date circled,” Bitter said. “That’s the one we know we have to win. It’s going to be exciting. There’s been a lot of talk between both teams all summer.”

The Warriors faced Plant in a 7-on-7 tournament two months ago. The game was close, with the Panthers pulling it out thanks to a late comeback.

“We can’t wait,” Bitter said. “We know we’re going to have a lot of support all season.”

That includes his family.

Brett played one season at Liberty before leaving to become a student at Florida. Now he is the one in the stands, possibly watching Steinbrenner’s biggest season ever.

Contact Bob Putnam at bputnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.

Football, Week 2

All games Friday night unless noted.

Sarasota Cardinal Mooney at Tampa Catholic, 7

Hernando at Eau Gallie, 7

Out-of-Door at Bishop McLaughlin, 7

All Saints’ at Bayshore Christian, 7

Northside Christian at Carrollwood Day, 7

Seffner Christian at Melbourne Holy Trinity, 7

Clearwater Academy at Delray Beach Atlantic, 7

Southwest Florida Christian at Indian Rocks Christian, 7

Keswick Christian at Cornerstone, 7

Foundation Academy at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7

Marco Island at Shorecrest, 7

Boca Ciega at Largo, 7:30

Plant City at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30

Land O’ Lakes at Countryside, 7:30

Mitchell at River Ridge, 7:30

Sunlake at Pasco, 7:30

Wiregrass Ranch at Wesley Chapel, 7:30

Berkeley Prep at Calvary Christian, 7:30

Plant at Gaither, 7:30

East Bay at Chamberlain, 7:30

Riverview at Durant, 7:30

Steinbrenner at Sickles, 7:30

Clearwater at East Lake, 7:30

Pinellas Park at Lakewood, 7:30

Osceola at Dunedin, 7:30

Gulf at Central, 7:30

South Sumter at Nature Coast, 7:30

Springstead at Weeki Wachee, 7:30

Cypress Creek at Anclote, 7:30

Citrus at Fivay, 7:30

Ponte Vedra at Zephyrhills, 7:30

Hudson at Naples First Baptist, 7:30

Ponte Vedra at Zephyrhills, 7:30

Alonso at Robinson, 7:30

Armwood at North Gwinnett, (Ga.), 7:30

Lennard at Brandon, 7:30

Bradenton St. Stephen’s at Cambridge Christian, 7:30

Jesuit at Immokalee, 7:30

Strawberry Crest at King, 7:30

Leto at Wharton, 7:30

Spoto at Newsome, 7:30

Dixie Hollins at Kissimmee Tohopekaliga, 7:30

Northeast at Gibbs, 7:30

Seminole at Palm Harbor University, 7:30

Venice at St. Petersburg, 7:30

American Collegiate at Lakeland, 7:30

Clearwater Central Catholic vs. Brentwood Academy (Tenn.) in Georgia, 1 p.m. Saturday

Watch live

Friday night’s East Bay-Chamberlain game will be streamed at theidentitytb.com or download The Identity Tampa Bay’s app.