The Matanzas football program hit a milestone this spring. For the first time in Matt Forrest’s four years as head coach, the Pirates have over 100 players on their roster.
That’s quite a growth spurt from Forrest’s first season in 2020 when the Pirates had about 40 players in the program, including six freshmen on varsity. All six are still with the team, now preparing for their senior season.
“It feels great,” said fourth-year starter Cole Hash as he looked around at dozens of teammates working out in the hot sun in the Pirates’ summer conditioning program. “I think we’ve proved to our school that we’re going to build something here. I think kids are seeing the work that we’re putting in, and they want to come and join the process, and I think they’re loving it.”
Forrest said looking back at the COVID season of 2020 is kind of a blur.
“It was a bad time to come in and be a head coach for the first time,” he said. “But we established what we wanted this program to look like. We felt we’d focus on the person first. We wanted them to get in the classroom, get in the community, and the football piece would fall into place. To have this participation now, and the kids sticking it out, is really awesome.”
Preseason practice is still more than a month away, and the players already feel the energy level rising and competition becoming more fierce.
“The coaches are getting more forceful, in a good way, and it’s bringing the team together. Everyone’s getting excited for this season,” said senior Ahmad Louis-Charles, who plays center and defensive tackle.
I think we’ve proved to our school that we’re going to build something here.”
— COLE HASH
Senior receiver/cornerback Sho’Marion Gaines moved to Texas last season but returned to Matanzas for the spring semester. He said the difference in summer workouts now compared to his freshman season goes beyond numbers.
“It’s 100 on the roster, so now spots are not just given out on the field,” Gaines said. “Now you got to work to earn your spot on the field. When you see a lot of people, it makes you want to work more and be more competitive. It’s been way more serious.”
The Pirates earned a berth in the playoffs in 2020 by beating New Smyrna Beach 7-6 in a play-in game. They feel they have the talent and depth this year to return to the postseason.
“We’ve had a couple of rebuilding years,” Hash said. “Now that I’m a senior, I see what those older guys meant when they said, ‘It goes by quick, don’t blink.’ Now I’m talking to freshmen and telling them, ‘Hey, it goes by fast, don’t blink.’
“It’s my last year, and I want to go out on a big stand,” Hash said. “I want to prove to our community and the people that watch us that we mean business here at Matanzas. We’re not just a little brother to FPC. I want everybody to know that Matanzas is really a football school, and that we’re here to make a statement. We’re here to make something happen this season.”