With a little more than two weeks of conditioning and practice under their belts, the Emerald Coast Stingray football team is already showing improvement.
“The positive this year is that we got a little earlier start than we did last year,” said Stingray Coach Matt Brooks.
Last year, Brooks got to the Emerald Coast right before the season kicked off.
“We were throwing together conditioning and trying to put a play book together a couple of days before we played our first game,” he said.
However, this year they started summer conditioning on July 10 with 30 to 35 young men out each day.
“This year we’ve got the luxury of coming out early, plus the kids know me and how I operate. They are able to come in and plug back in and keep it going,” Brooks said.
And so far, Brooks likes what he sees.
“We look pretty decent. We lost some of our bigger players, but we kept a lot of our skilled players,” he said.
The Stingrays have 19 eighth graders, which coach said is the bulk of their skilled players in the wide receiver slot along with running backs and quarterback positions.
Some of the returnees to look for in those skilled positions are running backs Beau Adams and Maddox Porter. Noah Ford is back at slot and Caleb Lindsey is back at the quarterback position. Nolan Watson is another player to keep an eye on.
The Stingrays will be mixing it up on offense, however, Brooks said he always looks to run the ball first, which helps to establish and control the game a little bit better.
“Our strength is in our running backs and trying to get it up field,” he said. “But we’ve got some passes in our packages that we will work in.”
As for defense, the Stingrays haven’t put in the time yet.
“We haven’t (practiced) defense a whole lot,” he said. “We’re smaller on the defensive line, so hopefully will use our linebackers to get to the plays a little better.”
Nevertheless, Brooks says he stresses proper and aggressive tackling.
“If we don’t tackle properly, we can get in the best position ever and we’re not going to be very effective. Proper technique and aggressive … then we can work on everything else,” he said.
The Stingrays will start practice in helmets Monday and then in full gear five days later.
Their first game is 6 p.m. at home on Aug. 15 against county-rival Freeport.
The goal for the season is “win more football games,” he said.
“But my goal is to see growth from the beginning to the end of the season," Brooks said. "To see us get better as players from start to finish. So if we are better players at the end of the season, that’s a pretty good goal to hang your hat on.”