By Kyle LoJacono
Steinbrenner senior Jon Marc Carrier sensed something different about the track and field team early this season.
Carrier, who joined the squad as a sophomore, said it was more than just the improvements of the returning athletes and the new additions.
“We got a couple new guys, but the mindset has just changed,” said Carrier, a sprinter/jumper. “We got older and wanted to compete and be the best. … We want to put our footprint down, Steinbrenner High School, in the county before we go off to college.”
The Warriors have benefitted from several additions, many of which are seniors like thrower Logan McKnight, distance runner Derek Gebhard and sprinter Trey Johnson.
First-year coach Mike Bosco, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant, said getting those new athletes to compete was one of his first goals.
“That’s half the battle, and then coach (Cedric) Roberts is so good with the technical side of the sprint events, all the little nuances of block starts and hand movements,” Bosco said. “It’s been really fun to see everyone improve so much. … Kids at our school just want to compete and put their names up on the banner we have in our gym and make a name for themselves.”
McKnight had always played baseball during the spring, but decided to give the shot put and discus throw a try.
“My dad threw in high school, and I remembered watching the Olympics and thinking I could do that,” McKnight said.
McKnight, who won a conference championship in the shot with a program record 46-feet, 5-inches, said the importance of form versus strength needed for a good throw surprised him.
“You see bigger, stronger guys out here who don’t throw as far as me, so it’s been a lot of work on the technique,” McKnight said.
Gebhard, who has signed to play soccer at Florida Gulf Coast University, said he found technique to be as important in his events.
“After my first 400 I felt stiff, and I just thought this has never happened to me with soccer,” Gebhard said. “I had to figure out the strategy, and there are definitely strategies that you have to figure out to help you with it, and it makes a big difference with your time.”
Steinbrenner has also been boosted by the healthy return of junior Jake Carroll and senior Kendall Pearcey. The sprinters missed last season with a torn ACL and a broken ankle, respectively, suffered playing football.
Bosco said the improvements to the sprint, hurdle and field athletes was something he wanted to build because he was confident in what his distance program, known as The Boss Cross, would deliver.
“Day 1 of practice we told them, ‘Guys, we know what we have distancewise with Boss Cross,’” Bosco said. “‘We know what those guys are going to give us, but if we want this to be a track team everybody has to buy into their roles and work hard.’ We think this can be a district championship team. From Day 1 they’ve bought in and stepped up so the distance group doesn’t have to carry us.”
Carroll added, “We knew the long distance kids were going to keep doing what they always do. We wanted to get to that level.”
The combination has given the Warriors the points need to win their four dual/tri meets this year while also taking the Nash Higgins Relay. Gebhard said the victories have provided a reason to keep pushing.
“There’re guys who are really good, and whenever you have a talented team it pushes everyone to get better, and it really helps the team build during the year,” Gebhard said. “Then the success as a team gives us motivation to keep working hard.”
The mentality shift has been welcome by Carrier. He joined the squad just to get faster at football, a sport he signed to play at Dartmouth College.
Now, he’s been bitten by the track bug.
“It’s been crazy how far it’s come,” Carrier said. “First off, it was mostly football guys just doing track to stay in shape. We were just kind of in the middle of the pack trying to compete. This year we’re winning events with our athletes and as a team, and we think we have a chance to win districts. We’ve grown so much so fast.”
The Warriors will look to win their first district championship at the 3A-8 meet at Gaither April 17, followed by regionals at Leto April 24 and states at the University of North Florida May 3.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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