From the outside looking in, it’s easy to speculate about Durant’s 2013 season so far.
The Cougars have had a monster schedule, opening their season with Armwood, Sickles and Tampa Bay Tech. There’s a matchup with Hillsborough later in the season, and there’s also the games against district contenders Plant City, Strawberry Crest and East Bay.
Furthermore, unless you have a true-blue football factory — some kind of nationally recognized powerhouse whose backups seem to be almost as good as the starters every year — the last thing you want to do after losing 12 starters to graduation is jump into the meat grinder.
Durant lost 12 seniors from its 10-0 2012 regular-season squad. It’s a great feeling for any coach to look at the team and think, I’ve got all these veteran guys who can go out and do their job and take this team somewhere. That’s great, until the season ends, and all those guys leave.
After those two big points, the speculation begins. People can chalk up the losses to bad calls, superstitions gone wrong or any number of theories.
But, perhaps the most important consideration is ignored: What’s it like from the inside, looking out?
No one involved in the program makes excuses for the Cougars’ 1-6 record. One day’s practice isn’t fundamentally different from what it was in the previous week, and it likely won’t be different from the one coming up next.
“We’re not really doing anything different,” senior Gabe Brown said. “We’re just working harder every week, trying to get better every week. Our record isn’t really showing much, but we’re still working.”
But the attitudes — those are different. The players are locked into focus now, and it’s visible in their eyes. They all are hunting to find whatever it is that can get this team back on track. Brown and Mason Bridges, two of the Cougars’ defensive stalwarts, are as focused as two kids pulling an all-night study session to pass a chemistry final. Other than the quarterbacks making their calls, only the coaches made any noise.
“We’ve had our ups and our downs,” Bridges said. “But, right now, seeing how we’re playing as a team, morale is down. But, as a defense, we’re very confident in our play. The offense, they’re kind of in a dry spell right now, but they’re doing their best. We’re out here in practice every day.”
It’s true: Other than the first three games of the year, Durant came close to victory in each of its losses. Two losses came by one point, and a third by six.
There were hopes for the offense at the Homecoming game three weeks ago, when Durant smacked the Gaither Cowboys around for a 26-0 win. Everything seemed poised for an upward trend. But last week’s 9-3 loss to Newsome deflated that notion.
“It was a heart-breaker,” head coach Mike Gottman said. “We scratched and clawed, and we were in the game the whole way.”
No one — players or coaches — attempted to make an excuse for this loss or any of the other ones. But, that’s not to say that the losses don’t come without lingering effects.
ALWAYS SOMETHING TO LOSE
“It’s tough,” Gottman said. “It’s something that we’re not used to — the last couple of years, we’ve had great success. We’ve been used to winning, and now, we’re having to adjust to losing the close ball games and having to just come out here every day and try to get better.”
Although the Cougars haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, they will need circumstances to work in their favor to get in. Obviously, they need to win the rest of their district games. One comes this week against Brandon, and then there’s East Bay in two weeks. Strawberry Crest must also win out. Plant City will have to lose out.
“It’s a long shot, but we just want to get better as a football team and as a football program, and we just want to win the game Friday night,” Gottman said.
Even if things don’t work out, the Durant players don’t want to be seen as “that team with nothing to lose.”
“There’s always something to lose,” Bridges said. “You’ve always got your pride. And your pride and your dignity are two of the biggest things. So, yes, there’s always something to lose.”
ON TO THE NEXT ONE
There aren’t a whole lot of things that Brandon’s football team have been able to do well this season. Sure, they’re sitting at .500 with a 3-3 record. But, to go back to that strength of schedule factor, it’s reasonable to think this year’s Durant squad would have had a much easier time with the Eagles’ opponents. While a 175-yard per-game rushing average is impressive, Brandon’s vertical game has been abysmal. Averaging 46.5 receiving yards per game, with a .300 completion percentage, is not going to faze anybody anywhere. Especially the Cougars, who excel at neutralizing the passing game.
“We’ve got to eliminate the mistakes and just play better, sound, fundamental football,” Gottman said.
That could be said after any week, by any coach. And it does get said a lot. But, it does gel with what Gottman and his players have been saying. Day in and day out, practices aren’t changing — it’s just going to be hard work, all the time, until they recapture their mojo, and the wins start coming back.
Contact Justin Kline at email@example.com.
OTHER AREA ACTION
East Bay at Strawberry Crest
Last Week: Strawberry Crest dispatched Riverview, 24-7, while East Bay snuck by Bloomingdale, 13-12.
Notes: Strawberry Crest looked about as fundamentally sound as possible last week, controlling every aspect of the game from start to finish. A sketchy Riverview team, plus a home crowd amped up for Homecoming, equals a solid win. Meanwhile, in Gibsonton, East Bay held off a late Bloomingdale rally to score a big non-district win at home. Bloomingdale took a 12-7 lead at the end of the third quarter, but the Indians scored six in the fourth and kept the Bulls’ rushers in check to seal the deal.
Plant City at Spoto
Last Week: Plant City fell to Tampa Bay Tech, 38-21, while Spoto took a 49-16 loss to Jesuit.
Notes: Don’t let that score fool you — the Plant City-Tampa Bay Tech game was played much closer than it appears. The Raiders were in this thing for almost the entire time, and it took a 14-point fourth quarter for the Titans to snatch this one away. Nothing for Plant City to be ashamed of here. Spoto, on the other hand, is 0-6 and coming off two of its worst losses of the season. This isn’t quite like the Denver Broncos-Jacksonville Jaguars game of this past Sunday, but it’s tough to picture the Raiders struggling in this one.