08/22/11 — FOOTBALL TAB -- Gators seek improvement in 2011

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FOOTBALL TAB -- Gators seek improvement in 2011

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 22, 2011 1:47 PM

Head coach Aaron Sanders' message during summer workouts at Spring Creek has been simple - focus on improving every day, let the wins and losses take care of themselves.

While letting results take a back seat to harnessing potential may be somewhat of a foreign concept in the highly competitive world of football, it's a concept that resonates with the Gators.

Wins have been few and far between in Sanders' three seasons on the Gators' sidelines, including a 1-10 record a year ago. Spring Creek has gone a combined 2-31 over the past three seasons, and Sanders and his coaching staff have stressed an importance on fundamentals during preseason workouts.

"We've talked about it as a coaching staff and we've talked about it with the kids, we're not necessarily looking at wins and losses," said Sanders. "We're looking at every day we step on the field, every rep we take on the field, we want to improve each time. Wins and losses will take care of themselves if you take care of the little things."

Sanders has been pleased with the progress he's seen from his team that has just seven seniors, including James Lancaster and Eric Mosely, who have engaged in a competitive battle for the starting quarterback position.

Former center Matthew Ponce has shed 15 pounds in the weight room and has transitioned to fullback for his senior season. Freshman Trey Hammonds and sophomore Anthony Russo are expected to be the starting receivers as part of a passing game that Sanders knows needs to play more of a vital role in the offense.

The Gators averaged just 12 points a game in their flexbone offense a year ago.

"James and Eric have competed hard against each other, but they work well with each other," said Sanders. "We would like to get better in the passing game. Last year, we did things in the running game that were a lot better than what we had done in the past. We would like to maintain some type of running game to get better in the passing game."

Seniors Kevin Lipscomb, Chris Nichols and Carson Grimley all return to the offensive line. Sophomore Evan Hicks has earned the starting job at center.

Spring Creek operates out of the 3-4 defense and the secondary has been a bright spot thus far in summer practices. Cornerback Malik Young, Darius Hayden, a transfer from New Mexico, and Mosely at safety have each given Sanders reasons to be optimistic.

"Our secondary right now appears to be pretty strong," said Sanders. "We're returning some kids in the secondary. We're excited about Malik Young at corner and Eric Mosely at free safety. Darius Hayden has looked very promising out on the practice field."

Ponce, Grimley and Jordan Hicks are all projected starters in a group of linebackers that Sanders admits has some question marks. Lipscomb and Jeremy Daniels provide veteran experience along the defensive line.

Opponents outscored the Gators 364-126 last season.

"There are still some positions that need to be earned or won at linebacker, and on the lines," said Sanders. "If you ask every coach in the county right now they would probably tell you the same thing. We want to make sure defensively we are doing the little things and that we're wrapping up making tackles, trying to force turnovers and things of that matter."

Spring Creek's lone victory of 2010 came against Carolina 1-A Conference opponent Princeton. It was the Gators' first conference win in Sanders' tenure. Spring Creek has gone 1-14 in conference play over the past three years, but Sanders remains hopeful that his team is headed in the right direction.

"Time will tell," said Sanders. "This is one of those groups that if they come together and they bond, they could really help turn that corner. They continue to build off what we started last year. Last year, we were in most of our ballgames. That's something that prior to last year we weren't.

"If this group will do the little things, if they'll block, if they'll tackle, they can be in ballgames, too."

The Gators open the season Friday at home against South Lenoir.