08/22/13 — FOOTBALL TAB -- Sanders: Gators blessed with experienced players

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FOOTBALL TAB -- Sanders: Gators blessed with experienced players

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 22, 2013 1:47 PM


SEVEN SPRINGS -- Finally blessed with some experienced returning players, athleticism and ability, Spring Creek must find the way to harness those intangibles this fall.

The answer is simple. Play with consistency.

Head coach Aaron Sanders and his staff reviewed videos from every single game the Gators played in 2011 and 2012. Blown assignments on each side of the ball spelled trouble against every opponent.

The main culprit seemed to be fatigue. The two-way starters labored to sustain blocks, miscues that didn't sit well with the coaches. Inconsistent play turned some close games into double-digit losses.

"We sat down as a staff and really made an emphasis to one-way the offensive and defensive lines," Sanders said. "We haven't been able to do that since I've been here as head coach. We're still going to have some of our backs going two ways, and we've got kids who understand that and are looking forward to the challenge.

"We tried to come up with the best solution to make these guys at Spring Creek as competitive as they can be so they can step out onto the field on Friday nights and feel confident they can play with other teams."

Repetitions in practice.

Stressing the mental aspect of the game.

Using proper techniques to execute blocks.

Those key elements have been the main focal points of practices in the "The Swamp" this summer.

"We can't have missed assignments, we've got to make correct reads," Sanders said. "We saw it during the scrimmage (Saturday). We've got to bring a consistent physical and mental effort on every down. When we do that, we're going to be OK."


Nine offensive starters return, including all-everything athlete Tre Hammonds. The junior emerged as one of the area's top offensive leaders before sustaining a concussion that sidelined him for more than a month.

Hammonds accounted for 177 passing yards, 215 rushing yards, 95 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Senior Anthony Russo (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) will direct the Gators' flex-bone, triple-option attack. Senior running back DeVonte Faison (5-10, 150) and junior slot back (5-8, 155) will more than likely share the ball-carrying duties.

Russo accounted for 200-plus yards of total offense and three touchdowns last season. Meanwhile, Faison passed for 231 yards, rushed for another 255 and scored a pair of TDs.

They'll be protected by 200-pounder Jackson Pulley, whom Sanders expects to anchor the offensive line. The 6-3 junior is joined by senior tackle Zach Bowen (5-10, 180), senior guard John Wiggins (6-1, 235) and juniors Jordan Hicks and Nazai Carmichael.

"Four of our five linemen are seniors (and) they're not the biggest guys in the world, but they're fairly quick and play hard," Sanders said. "The more they work together, the more they're going to gel as a unit. I like the athleticism in the backfield, which is something that we don't always see at Spring Creek.

"We have a couple of ball carriers who have a little bit of speed. We have a couple of receivers who can catch the ball a little bit. If they play consistent, they will be OK."


Unlike bigger schools that have position coaches, Sanders keeps a watchful eye on every group -- especially the defense.

And the Gators have some size this season.

Defensive coordinator Jon Sessler scoured the halls and found players to fit his philosophy. He's got a trio of 300-pounders -- Anthony Henriquez (5-10), Jordan Rasheed (6 feet) and Evan Hicks (6-2) -- that will rotate among the interior of the line.

"That's a fairly big line we bring to the table," a grinning Sanders said. "We decided to move some personnel around this year and give the defense some size. You have never seen that at Spring Creek and we're excited about it."

Junior DaShawn Braswell (5-11, 205) returns at defensive end. Senior Terrell Johnson (5-9, 155) and junior Jordan Hicks (6-2, 190) will handle middle linebacker duties. Faison and Russo will play outside linebacker.

Williams, Carmichael and junior Logan Miller (5-9, 135) are in the secondary.

"The guys we are putting out there behind that defensive front can run to the football a little bit," Sanders said. "I am excited to see what these guys will do when they finally get on the field Friday nights this fall."