By Kyle LoJacono
The Steinbrenner football team felt ready for a district championship and to make its first postseason a year ago, but injuries and inexperience dashed those dreams.
The returning Warriors are using lessons learned from a 7-3 campaign to take that next step.
“We’re hungry,” said junior inside linebacker Logan McKnight. “We want a district championship and to go way farther than that.”
Steinbrenner did have the first winning season in the program’s three-year history, but came up short in two critical district games.
A pair of fumbles, including one returned for a touchdown, doomed the Warriors in a 35-25 loss to Tampa Bay Tech, and a season-ending injury to fullback Jake Carroll disrupted the offense in a 37-7 loss to Gaither.
“Last year our goal was to win districts and make the playoffs, but now I think we have a better sense of how hard we need to work to get there,” said sophomore quarterback Curtis Fitch. “Last year against Gaither and Tech we weren’t mentally there. We don’t want to feel that again.”
Carroll, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound sophomore, tore the ACL in his right knee on the opening kickoff against Gaither in Week 5. He said watching his team fall to their rival was tough.
“First of all, I don’t really like Gaither, so to go out in that game made it even worse,” said Carroll, who had 240 yards on 34 carries last year. “It got on my nerves that they won.”
Losing Carroll changed what the Warriors did with their run-heavy wing-T offense, but it helped them find a new weapon — halfback Kendall Pearcey. The junior ended the season with a team-high 776 rushing yards on 98 carries and 11 touchdowns, earning him All-Laker/All-Lutz News Offensive Player of the Year honors. He added 142 receiving yards and two scores and another 441 yards on punt and kick returns.
“It meant a lot because before I haven’t been able to contribute very much,” Pearcey said. “Getting 15-plus carries a game and averaging more than seven yards a carry was great because I always wanted to be able to help the team when it needed me.”
Pearcey is also recovering from a broken right ankle suffered in the season finale against Middleton. He won’t play in the spring game to make sure he is ready for the fall. Once healed, Steinbrenner will have two reliable backfield options.
“Me and Jake splitting carries is going to wreak havoc because they don’t know who to cover,” Pearcey said. “They can’t cover Jake coming up the middle and me coming around the outside, so it’s an undecipherable offense for any defense.”
Fitch said the tandem is critical for the passing game.
“Whenever they get the ball they pick up yards, but when I fake it to them everyone bites,” Fitch said. “That opens up the pass. They make the whole offense better.”
The Warriors must completely rebuild their offensive line after losing six members, including every starter. One who is filling a void is 6-foot-2, 260-pound junior left tackle Chris Harrison.
“The line we have now all came in together from Martinez (Middle),” Harrison said. “There’s a lot of chemistry, especially between myself, our right tackle Blaine Tucker and Zack Goldsmith our guard. Our center, Nick Bosco and Oliver Lack, our other guard, came in last year, so we’ve worked together for a while.”
The defense brings back all but three starters. One returner is McKnight, who led the squad with 96 tackles and seven sacks last season.
“The guys we lost were big parts of our defense, but we think we’re ready,” McKnight said. “My bold prediction is we’re going to let up the least amount of points in the county.”
Steinbrenner travels to Alonso to play in the second half of the spring jamboree against the host May 24 at 6:30 p.m.
–Stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches
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