The Gators new first-year head coach is aptly named.
The former NFL lineman took over as head honcho in May, but his shift in (good) coaching technique and (speedy) training style has already paid off.
Land O’ Lakes is off to a 4-0 start and is looking like one of the county’s top teams again.
“It’s still a work in progress, but we’re headed in that direction and (it is) reflected on the football field because football is fun — it should be fun,” said Goodspeed, who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. “You won’t hear any screaming out here, nothing negative — I don’t think there’s a need to berate players, so we want them to have fun and that’s part of the culture shift.
“(That’s a) tough thing to say, if we’re back, but (our players will) determine that with the work they’re putting in. Basically, on game day, I have a ticket to watch the best game in town, but it’s up to them to put in the work. We’re just here to guide them. It’s up to them to want it.”
When Goodspeed took over as head coach in May — becoming the fifth Gators coach since 2008 when the legendary John Benedetto retired — there was a whirlwind of changes.
The previous coach, Trac Braughn, stepped down just days before spring football season began. Then, Land O’ Lakes saw its star quarterback, Kyle Horvath, transfer to nearby rival Sunlake, just after wrapping up a 2021 season in which he threw for 2,067 yards and 28 touchdowns.
And while last season may seem like a success at 9-1, the Gators played as an independent team. They stayed out of the Florida High School Athletic Association’s very tough Class 7A District 10 that featured Hillsborough County schools such as Armwood, Strawberry Crest, Tampa Bay Tech and Wharton. Land O’ Lakes was in rebuild mode following back-to-back losing seasons (3-15) in 2019 and 2020.
“Winning is fun, but the purpose is to get better at football,” Goodspeed said. “Everyone wants to count wins and losses, but we’re also developing young men to be better athletically and academically.
“When playing with the Bucs, as we made our home out here in Pasco County, I used to come here (to the games) on Fridays and watch those (Gators) teams (of the past) have that Land O’ Lakes football atmosphere and really saw what it meant. So I knew a shift in culture was important.”
Goodspeed specifically shifted the way the Gators train on the field and in the weight room. He brought in Chris May, director of sports performance at Saddlebrook Resort. May trains athletes in a wide range of sports, including football.
“That way we are doing training right, and not just running them until their tongues are hanging on the ground,” Goodspeed said. “We wanted to train explosiveness.”
Players are buying into the return of a winning culture and new techniques, which has them optimistic heading back into district play, which begins with a tough opponent: Mitchell on Sept. 30.
Sophomore quarterback Mason Clarke, who earned the starting nod by throwing two touchdowns in the team’s Spring Game, is one of those players.
“With Coach Goodspeed coming in, I think we’re more of a team now,” Clarke said. “We’re still building the team skills, and that’s definitely shown with how we’re playing with this pretty big start. … That’s our goal — to play as a team finally, which feels good, just as much as it does winning.”
“It feels great,” agreed senior linebacker Justin Leivas, who has 30 tackles. “We’re playing some good football, so things have really been better as a team with Coach Goodspeed.”
For now, the Gators are focused on their first district game in two years, never wanting to look too far ahead on the schedule.
“We don’t have a lot of experience in things like coming from behind or protecting a lead,” Goodspeed said. “That’s something that comes from years of it happening, and a lot of these kids, that’s just never happened for them.
“Land O’ Lakes hasn’t had that for many years now, so we’re trying to instill that because once we get into a tough match, which we will be against Mitchell, we can say, ‘Hey, we’ve planned for this. We’ve practiced this,’ and we can go from there.”
Mitchell (3-2, 1-0) vs. Land O’ Lakes (4-0, 0-0)
When: Oct. 3, 7 p.m.
Where: John Benedetto Stadium at Land O’ Lakes High, 20325 Gator Lane, Land O’ Lakes
Coaches: Mitchell – Andy Schmitz; Land O’ Lakes – Dan Goodspeed
Outlook: The Gators are opening district play, while the Mustangs already defeated Wiregrass Ranch 50-6 on Sept. 16. Land O’ Lakes turns to its young quarterback, Mason Clarke, who has amassed 463 total yards and five scores. His top target has been senior Kennen Ayala, who has caught all of the team’s receiving touchdowns. … The Mustangs rely heavily on their running quarterback, senior Chris Ferrini, who has 11 total touchdowns, as well as 559 passing yards and 335 rushing yards. Mitchell has outscored opponents 155-65.
Class 4 Suburban, Region 2, District 6 Standings
Land O’ Lakes 4-0
Wiregrass Ranch 1-3
Published September 28, 2022