While the pandemic affected all high school sports teams last year, first-year Matanzas High football coach Matt Forrest felt like his program was behind from the start.
With no spring practice and an abbreviated fall practice, Forrest and his staff barely had time to install their system, let alone establish a culture. This past offseason gave them that chance.
“We were able to teach our culture this summer, who we are, what our identity is off the field,” Forrest said. “The culture starts in the weight room and three-quarters of our kids came to (summer workouts) four days a week. They didn’t miss a day.”
After losing 26 seniors from last year’s 6-4 team, the Pirates will have to find leadership in some non-traditional places. A few sophomores who started as freshmen last season are ready to do their part.
“Me assuming a leadership role is just a big part of how we do things at Matanzas,” rising sophomore Cole Hash said during a break on the first day of practice Monday, Aug. 1. “It’s just who wants to step up and who wants to be a leader and who wants to be a captain on this team and really make a difference.”
“We’re going to have a ton of youth. A key for us is, how quickly will those kids grow up?
MATT FORREST, Matanzas football coach
Hash started at wide receiver last year and is slated to play linebacker this season. He is one of four freshmen starters for the Pirates in 2020 who could have expanded roles this season.
“We’re going to have a ton of youth,” Forrest said. “A key for us is, how quickly will those kids grow up? Do they become elite this year and bring the young guys with them?”
The Pirates have about 25 or 26 juniors and seniors on the roster. The rest of the team will be comprised of underclassmen, Forrest said.
Matanzas does return wide receiver Noah Cundiff, who has several Division I college offers on the table. Cundiff caught 61 passes for 574 yards last season. But he’ll be catching passes from a first-year starter this year.
Sophomore Dakwon Evans is one of four players competing to replace graduated quarterback Ethan Dattilio, who set Matanzas’ single-season passing record last year with 1,771 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Evans will play wide receiver and cornerback if he doesn’t start at QB. At quarterback, the athlete would give Forrest’s air raid scheme a different look.
“He’s a lot more mobile,” said fellow sophomore Jordan Mills. “He has a lot more athleticism. He’s good with decision making and he’s very versatile.”
Evans said wide receiver may be his favorite position but he’ll play anywhere the team needs him.
“I played quarterback in Pop Warner. I know high school football is totally different, but I feel that with hard work and help from my teammates with the plays I can get it done,” he said.
Mills will be a second-year starter at cornerback, while the fourth freshman starter from last season, Sho’Marion Gaines, will likely play at running back and safety.
“We had a lot of seniors last year that brought the energy and got everybody motivated,” Mills said. “That just means we have to replace them.”
But they do have an advantage they didn’t have heading into last season – spring and summer workouts.
“The spring really taught me the defense,” said senior linebacker Zeke Flores. “(COVID-19) really messed it up last year. We didn’t have a spring game, so we didn’t know what to work on. It really tested us a lot. It showed us who really wanted it. We feel like we’re going to be better this year.”