By Kyle LoJacono
PASCO — Pasco County high schools have been without spring football games for the last 19 years, but that changes in 2010.
“We were approached by the principals of all the Pasco County schools and asked if we could bring the spring games back,” said Pasco athletic director Phil Bell. “There were two main reasons we decided to bring the games back. First it allows the schools to better evaluate their football programs in a competitive situation. The second and most important is to let all the kids get experience.”
To ensure the later goal, the junior varsity squads for both schools are required to play against each other for at least one quarter. The games will be played the last Friday each May, which is May 28 this year.
“Ideally we’d like to see the varsity play for one half and the JV to play the other half,” Bell said. “We felt it was important to make the playing time rule so that all the kids get some experience.”
For the last 19 years, the schools had instead played intra-squad games, with the offense and defense playing against each other. The schools will still play the intra-squad contests with the spring games.
Each team will play one game against another Pasco school at the end of May. The games are expected to be played the last Friday of each May, which is May 28 this year. Other counties in the area have similar spring competitions, either actual games or jamborees where multiple teams go to one central location and practice against each other.
Bell said no additional county money will be needed for the games because an admission fee will be charged.
Besides the two reasons Bell gave, the spring games should bring more college recruiters to Pasco, which would likely increase the number of scholarships offered to county players.
“I think it will really bring in more scouts to Pasco,” said Wiregrass Ranch High School coach Jeremy Shobe. “You have to make the recruiters want to come here and it makes it better for them if they can watch two teams at once. The old intra-squad games help the coaches some, but scouts would rather watch a game against another team.”
Wiregrass Ranch will play Land O’ Lakes High School at home this spring.
One of the newest Pasco coaches is Zephyrhills High School’s Reginald Roberts, who played spring football during his entire Bulldogs playing career from 1986 to 1990.
“I loved playing the spring games myself,” said Roberts, who was named Zephyrhills coach Jan. 22. “For me as a new coach it will show what we need to work on the most. We’ll be playing Pasco (High School) in their stadium, so it’s a great way to learn what we need to improve on while playing our closest rival. That will help add to our rivalry in the regular season.”
The spring game is even more important to the first year coach.
“I have a certain way I’d like to see us play, but I won’t know if it will work with our players until I see how it works in a game,” Roberts said. “Playing someone else lets you see what will work during the regular season. Those real situations will be key for me in shaping the team during the fall.”
Sunlake High School will play Mitchell High School at Sunlake this spring.
“It gives us a chance to see what the underclassmen can do without having to worry about them making mistakes that hurt the whole team,” said Sunlake coach Bill Browning. “Coaches don’t want to put an inexperienced kid into the game where they might make a mental mistake that costs the senior class a chance to make the playoffs. We don’t have to think about that in the spring.”
The only public high school from central or east Pasco who has yet to schedule a game is Wesley Chapel as of Feb. 25, but Steve Mumaw, Wildcat athletic director, said they still planned to have a game.
In the end, the spring game is just that. A game where scores will be kept and a winner declared, but who wins will mean little to the coaches.
“The critical thing is to give all the kids a chance to play, not just trying to win no matter what,” Shobe said. “The coaches in the area have been talking to each other and we’ll make sure to keep the game in perspective. We don’t want to see scores run up and starters staying in too long. We all want to teach and prepare before the games count.”
Spring football schedule
- Zephyrhills at Pasco May 28
- Land O’ Lakes at Wiregrass Ranch May 28
- Mitchell at Sunlake May 28
- Wesley Chapel vs. TBA