The Nease High football team may be going through some growing pains, but what they may lack in experience, they make up for in grit.
The Panthers lost their season opener, 21-14, to rival Ponte Vedra last Friday, but new Nease coach Collin Drafts got to see what his team is made of when the going gets tough.
“As far as the team is concerned, I learned that we fought hard,” Drafts said. “We started off slow, got down 10-0, but we battled back and took the lead and held the lead until late in the fourth quarter. We definitely have fight in us, which is what you want in a football team.”
Drafts, who came to Nease in April from AC Flora High School in Columbia, South Carolina, is taking over for Tim Krause, who left after five seasons to take the head coaching job at Bishop Kenny. The shortened offseason presented some issues, though.
“I got here in late April, and spring ball was rushed, but I felt like we did a good job as a staff, and the players, in getting prepared for the spring game,” Drafts said. “There are so many things you have to get in, and to implement your mentality and the way you operate your football program, you really need an entire offseason. There was a time crunch obviously, but we had a good spring, had a good summer and we’re just trying keep hammering home what the most important things are, exactly what we’re looking for, laying out our expectations and holding these guys accountable to meet those expectations every day.”
In the process of meeting expectations and reshaping the team culture, Drafts is trying to get his players to see each other as more than teammates.
“One of our core values is really just becoming a family,” he said. “It just means being selfless, it just means doing all the little things everybody has to do to make sure that our team can be successful. In this day and age, it’s so easy to get caught up in the me, me, me, and worry about stats and accolades and scholarships, and all the other things that come along with playing high school football, but we’re really just trying to get the guys to buy into the team mentality, and they’ve done an unbelievable job of that.”
Drafts knows it will take time to build exactly what he wants, because while the team has the tenacity, it is also dealing with a lack of experience in some key positions.
“We do have a good corps of seniors, but we’re playing a lot of young guys,” Drafts said. “[There are] a lot of guys who didn’t get a lot of playing time last year or played JV last year. I think we’re starting close to seven or eight sophomores right now. It’s good for the future, but it’s tough right now, and you’ve got to take your lumps.”
Experience will come as the season progresses, Drafts said, but, for now, the team isn’t looking ahead, but just focusing on the things it can control.
“Our biggest mission is just to be the best that we can be, day after day, and that’s through selfless commitment to our family and team, and to take it one day at a time,” Drafts said. “And when we get the kids to understand the true meaning of that, then eventually winning will become a byproduct of that.”
The Panthers next play another rivalry game at 7 p.m. Friday, at home against Creekside.