NEW PORT RICHEY — Mitchell lost all 11 offensive starters from last season’s playoff team.
Andy Schmitz, in his eighth year as the Mustangs’ coach, said he has never heard of a team getting its entire offense wiped out from one year to the next.
“We came in January for team workouts, and the coaches looked around and said, ‘Where did they all go?’ " Schmitz said.
Nine of the players graduated. One stopped playing due to concussion issues. The other one, Hunter McFarland, switched to defense, where six starters were lost.
The good news, Schmitz said, was that the Mustangs had a bunch of returning underclassmen on the offensive line — Adam Buonnano, Kameron Washington, Dylan Bromberg, Brayden Krapfl, Trey Montgomery and Mauricio Anton — who didn’t play much in 2020 but did get their share of practice reps behind the starters.
“We did have to switch up the lineup several times to find the best combinations, and there was a learning curve, but the group just kept working at it and getting better and better,” Schmitz said. “Now I have to say they are the most improved group of players that I’ve ever seen.”
Mitchell finished the regular season 8-2 and took the Class 7A, District 9 title with a 3-1 record. The Mustangs broke a district tie to earn their seventh straight title on an overall record/strength-of-schedule algorithm.
“The goal every year is to win the district title, but this year, given how many players we lost (from an 11-2 team that lost in the region final), I thought it was a very tall order,” Schmitz said. “I think this year is a reflection of the expectations we’ve developed here, and by that I mean expectations to work hard and respect the Mitchell football family.
“We have a saying, ‘Pressure is a privilege,’ and I know this group took that to heart. They said to themselves, ‘We have to keep this standard up.’ "
Two quarterbacks, senior Ethan Rice and junior Chris Ferrini, showed their unselfishness by agreeing to platoon in the footsteps of prolific Ezra Brennan, who in 2020 passed for 2,283 yards and 36 touchdowns. Heading into tonight’s game, Rice has completed 37-of-77 for 703 yards and 13 touchdowns. Ferrini has completed 29-of-49 for 368 yards and five touchdowns, while rushing for 544 yards and another 12 touchdowns.
Ferrini, who plays full time at safety, has also caught 12 passes, including four touchdowns, from Rice.
“I love being on the field for every play,” Ferrini said. “We all want to help the team in any way we can. That’s how it is at Mitchell. It’s all about the team.”
And their classmates.
The Mustangs’ opponent for tonight’s playoff opener, Wharton (7-2), showed some respect this week to the Mitchell student cheering section, known as the “Stang Gang.” Knowing how loud it can get at a Mitchell home game, coach Mike Williams piped in some music at the Wildcats’ practices.
“We do not take the Stang Gang lightly,” he posted on Twitter, tagging the Mitchell student section’s account.
“We’ll be louder than that,” the students responded. “We’re going to bring the noise Friday night.”
Ferrini, for one, said he couldn’t wait to step “into the energy.”
“It’s an honor to play here,” he said. “I feel lucky to be in this program.”