Phillip Prior’s first game as the Chargers’ head coach is Friday night.
The purpose of every preseason game is for teams to get a legit feel for who they have and what they might be capable of. In Strawberry Crest’s case, though, Friday night’s game goes way beyond that.
Phillip Prior hasn’t been with the Chargers for long — he came aboard in late July after Ron Hawn retired — and much of his time in Dover has been spent learning about the players themselves and building up relationships with them.
It’s the latest a school in the Plant City area has had to replace a head coach in quite some time. Hawn, also an outside hire, was brought in to Crest in December 2015. James Booth, the only other outside head coaching hire in recent years, got to Plant City in April 2017. Though something similar to this year’s coaching change happened in June 2016, when the Raiders went from Greg Meyer to Robert Paxia, that was a promotion from within the program and Paxia already knew exactly who and what he had to work with.
So, Friday’s game will be as much or more of a learning experience for Prior as it will be for many of his players. But he knows the deck’s been stacked against him in an unusual way, so Prior is staying positive and focusing on the things the team can control.
“The last couple weeks have kind of been a big install for us, doing a lot of new things, so this week is all about making sure we approach it like it’s a game week and have it be more perfecting of our techniques, perfecting of our scheme,” Prior said. “Being a little bit more crisp than we have been the last couple of weeks.”
What’s already clear is the team’s quarterback situation: Prior confirmed Monday that senior Caleb Goodson is “the guy” for 2019. Goodson does have previous experience at the position, having played under center in five games in 2017. He did stay involved in the offense in 2018, seeing action as a receiver, and will get help from returning players like Ethan Calaway, Kadin Durgan, Jadyn Girard and Andre James-Williams who lined up on offense with him last season.
It will also be interesting to see how the defense plays out now that key contributors like Cody Newman and Josh Young have graduated. Durgan, who also contributes as a safety, defensive lineman Sebastian Fernandez, defensive back and linebacker Jake Craig bring leadership to the defense as experienced returners.
The Palm Harbor University Hurricanes are coming off of a 3-7 (1-5 district) record in 2018 in which they lost five of their final six games, lost top quarterback and rusher Wyatt Beasey and leading tackler Gunner Wilson to graduation. Though the Chargers would like to win the game, in-house stuff is priority number one with the team and PHU will be able to show the Chargers some things they may not have been able to see yet.
“With it being a kickoff classic, our biggest thing is we’re not really gonna worry too much about the opponent,” Prior said. “Obviously we want to prepare our kids for what they’re gonna do but, ultimately, we’re gonna worry about us. We’re gonna worry about getting our stuff in, getting as much of it on film so we can coach that up, we’re just gonna do our stuff and be who we are.”
The Chargers are aiming to win each rep and try to make the first home game of 2019 a positive experience before starting the regular season with two games on the road before a Sept. 6 bye.
OTHER AREA ACTION
@ Lake Gibson, 7:30 p.m.
vs. Spoto, 7:30 p.m.