By JACOB HOAG
ENGLEWOOD — One by one, Lemon Bay High School football coach Don Southwell sent players down the goal line at Wednesday’s practice. The group would sprint 53 1/2 yards across the field, snake around and jog back down the 5-yard line before turning and sprinting again along the 10-yard line.
Back and forth they went, alternating speeds until they hit the 50. They took a short breath and were sent back down the yard line working toward the end zone this time.
The team could’ve had to do two more, but have the ability to knock a few off with “perfect” drills throughout the practice.
“It’s just some interval training much like a game. You exert, rest, exert, rest,” Southwell said. “We’re gonna have at least 50 percent of our guys playing more than 50 percent of the game both ways. The only option for us to be successful is to be in elite condition physically.”
For the Mantas, conditioning is just about as key as game planning. With 28 players filling up the roster, half of many other area schools, many players play both ways and often are called upon to play multiple positions to add depth.
It’s a challenge for sure, but one that’s been embraced by the team and the coaching staff.
“The coaches make us go through because in reality you’re gonna be way more tired than that in a game,” senior linebacker Aiden Moore said. “You have to train to push yourself even when you are as tired as you can be.
“Most of the time I or some of my friends won’t even leave the field. We’re playing three straight hours of football and that’s not easy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
It’s a pack mentality for the Mantas. They’re all in it together and it showed at Wednesday’s practice.
Toward the end of the drill, one player remained at the end of the line needing a push to complete the last two legs. Without a prompt from the coaching staff, five players rallied around their teammate to keep his legs churning.
“That’s what we would want even if we had 75 guys,” Southwell said. “You have to be close-knit when you have 28 guys because everyone is suffering together. It’s kind of like a family, one guy’s down and someone else has to pick up the slack and our kids buy into that.”
Through the first week of fall practice, Southwell has been quite pleased with his team as the Mantas prepare for the regular season opener against Port Charlotte on Aug. 23.
During camp there are a lot of things that can’t be changed, like the size of the roster, which is something they battled through all of last year. But there are plenty of things within their grasp that they key on to propel the program forward.
“Two big mottos in our program are attitude and effort because those are two things we can control,” Southwell said. “I can’t give them a magic pill that’s gonna make them bigger, faster, stronger overnight. But every one of us in the program is in charge of our attitude and effort and that’s been fantastic so far.
“We’re a young football team and don’t have a ton of guys, so staying healthy and keeping that mentality of improvement is critical for us.”
Like most programs, the first week is somewhat rudimentary and focuses a lot on basics and fundamentals.
Though the team continues to work over the summer, it’s not the same as having the deadline of the first game knocking.
With just two weeks until the preseason classic, the anticipation is growing and the work is intensifying. For Moore, it’s one last chance to don the Manta orange and blue and compete.
“It’s been a build up,” Moore said.
“I’ve been hanging around varsity since my freshman year and you hear all these things about how it’s your senior year and it’s your last chance. I’ve seen it coming and you don’t expect it to hit you so fast, but it’s here and I’m really excited to go put it all out there and enjoy my senior year.”