When four freshmen earn starting spots on your football team through a combination of talent and tenacity, the possibilities over the next four years seem endless.
Cole Hash, Jordan Mills, Dakwon Evans and Sho’Marion Gaines all started as freshmen for Matanzas High School. This fall, they will be seniors. While there have been detours along the way, the optimism is as strong as ever for the quartet.
By the end of the season last year, only one of the four — Hash — was suiting up. Evans fractured his collarbone in the third game of the season. Mills injured ligaments in his right shoulder in October. And Gaines played football last season in Texas.
In the Pirates’ spring game against Nease on May 17 at the Ship, Evans was back at quarterback leading the offense, Gaines was back making big plays, and Hash — who led Matanzas in rushing, receiving and tackles last season — was solid again on both sides of the ball.
Mills, who also plays on both sides of the ball, had surgery in February and is expected to be back for preseason practice.
Nease won the spring game 35-14, scoring a late touchdown in the fourth quarter with backups playing for both teams. After the game, Matanzas coach Matt Forrest was in good spirits.
Sho’Marion’s a special football player. He had two touchdowns tonight, and we were able to get him the ball in some space and let him make some plays.” — MATT FORREST, Matanzas football coach
“If that was our Kickoff Classic (which is played a week before the season’s opener), I would be extremely pleased. And to have that in the spring game, I thought we did a lot of good things,” Forrest said.
Gaines showed off the big-play ability the Pirates were missing for much of last season. He caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Evans in the first quarter, returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter and followed that with an interception before halftime.
“Sho’Marion’s a special football player,” Forrest said. “He had two touchdowns tonight, and we were able to get him the ball in some space and let him make some plays. Just getting him back in and letting him play corner was what we were really focused on this spring, and then in the last two weeks, we fitted him in some different positions — running back, slot, outside receiver. We’ve got to get him more comfortable in the offense, and we’ll be able to do that over the summer.”
Gaines said it feels good to be back with his Pirates’ teammates.
“I missed all my friends and my family,” he said. “It feels good to show off my talents. I’ve kind of been in the shadows a lot because I moved, but I’m ready to do what I’ve got to do. The team looks good, but we have a lot of work to put in.”
Evans passed for over 100 yards and ran for 40 yards.
“It just feels great to be out here,” he said. “We had great energy. The team’s building up. I feel like the team is becoming more of a team right now.”
Forrest was impressed with Evans’ pocket presence.
“Sometimes I had to just look at him and go, ‘Man, you hadn’t played since September?’”
Evans was hitting receivers on rollouts and not just tucking the ball in and running, which he did quite a bit as a sophomore when he was learning the quarterback position.
“He was making some mistakes,” Forrest said. “On fourth down he forgot to tell the offensive line we were running a no-play again, and the ball was snapped, but I think he got a little confident. He said, ‘I’m ready to run the ball, let’s start putting some of that stuff in.’ I said, ‘OK, if you feel comfortable with it.’ Getting the cobwebs out of him was really good, and when he’s playing well, I think our offense is pretty tough.”