TARPON SPRINGS — Coming off a seven-win season that included the program’s first road playoff win since 1986, Tarpon Springs is understandably upbeat this summer.
“It’s exciting,” said coach Ron Hawn this week about the positive offseason mood surrounding his team. “The kids are planning on progressing on last year. We’re not rebuilding. I think we’re probably better than we were last year and the kids feel that, too.”
Considering the size and talent of last season’s departed senior class, that opinion may seem optimistic. Gone are a bevy of impact players on both sides of the ball like Montel Johnson, Damarkus Jones, Maurice Turner, Brian Anderson and Patrick Miller.
But fortunately for Hawn and the Spongers, an equally sizable and talented group is ready to go back to work.
“The rising senior class is a great group of guys,” Hawn said of next fall’s upperclassmen. “The majority of them have been with me all four years I’ve been here as head coach. They’re a big class, maybe not a big as last year’s class, but it’s in the ballpark.”
Running back Michael Ford, tight end-defensive end Mitchell Wilcox, linebacker Leonel Hernandez and lineman Connor Donovan lead that list.
Ford, who did not play in the spring jamboree because of a foot injury, may be poised for a monster year to cap his impressive four-year prep career. Already an imposing runner with quality breakaway ability, Hawn said an endurance improvement could be what allows Ford to go from great to amazing in 2014.
“We want him to take that step of being the big running back that’s capable of breaking the big runs and then come back and hit you again,” Hawn said. “I think he’ll be able to do that and step up to that challenge.”
While the Spongers — and everyone else, for that matter — know Ford will get his roughly 20 touches a night, what remains to be decided is who will be handing off those balls.
Quarterback Brandon Casler is back for his senior season behind center, but is joined by Trai Halton. Halton burst onto the scene last year as a point guard on Tarpon Springs’ region semifinalist basketball team after transferring from New Smyrna Beach. Hawn now has the speedy, 5-foot-10 athlete on the gridiron as an added option.
“Competition makes everybody better,” Hawn said of the quarterback situation. “It’s good for all those guys and they allow us to do different things between the two of them.
“It’s really not a matter of finding that one guy, it’s what’s the best 11 we can put on the field.”
It’s competition like that Hawn is hoping to see more of at other positions on both sides of the ball. Having another quality 11 guys who can step in for those “best 11” is oftentimes the difference between a winning and losing season.
“We might not have a lot of kids right now, but we have a lot of athletes,” Hawn said of his roster heading from spring into summer. “We knew we were going to be talented in terms of athletes, but we knew we were going to be raw, as well. Our big thing was finding depth, which we think we found.”