By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor
At 2-2, Strawberry Crest may not be headlining anyones top 10 list, but it’s hard not to notice what the Chargers have been able to accomplish so far this season.
Strawberry Crest opened the year with a win against Plant City, one of the schools that split to form SCHS in 2009. That Plant City team has gone undefeated since that loss.
The Chargers then dropped a one point game on the road against Bloomingdale, before beating Steinbrenner — a 7-3 team in 2011 — on the road 21-14.
Perhaps in its biggest test yet, Strawberry Crest hosted perennial power Hillsborough and gave the Terriers all they wanted in a 32-24 loss last week.
At .500 through four games, this team is worlds apart from last year’s Chargers team, which won just one game on the field in a 37-32 win over winless Leto. SCHS finished with a record that showed 2-8 after district foe Armwood had to forfeit all games due to playing ineligible players.
The Chargers were shut out in four games last season and were outscored 477-100 in one preseason game and 10 regular season games last year. Playing the same opponents this year, Strawberry Crest has outscored opponents 93-81.
All of that, of course, carries only a little weight for new head coach John Kelly and his team — but it still is a strong step in the right direction.
“We’re still a work in progress, and we will be every game,” Kelly said. “I tell the players all the time that I want to see progress from game to game. I want our guys to just continually get better.”
Although there is still plenty of work to be done, Kelly admitted the way his team performed against Hillsborough was promising.
“It gave them some confidence, because we were able to realize that we’re not the same old Strawberry Crest, and that it’s not 43-0 like it was last season,” Kelly said. “We had some good drives and were able to score on them and hold them from time to time and cause some turnovers. Those are all confidence-builders.”
Turnovers have been a large part of the Chargers success so far this season. Strawberry Crest enters its Week 5 game with King (0-4) with a plus seven turnover ratio, even after three interceptions and a lost fumble against Hillsborough.
One of the question marks entering the season was filling the void left by quarterback Trey VanDeGrift, who transferred to Durant after two seasons as the Chargers’ starter.
Sophomore Tristan Hyde filled that void and has done a solid job leading the Strawberry Crest offense thus far. Through four games, Hyde has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has had turnover issues in the last two games, throwing three picks each against Steinbrenner and Hillsborough, but Kelly feels his young quarterback has done a quality job behind center in the Chargers’ spread offense.
One of his favorite targets behind center has been Karel Hamilton. The senior has 20 catches for 357 yards and five touchdowns, while Alex Carswell has 216 yards on 12 receptions. Hyde’s brother, Joshua, and Colby Williams round out key receiving targets with 180 and 119 yards, respectively.
The defense has had some guys banged up all season but has held strong, with senior Andrew Zuluaga currently leading the team with 46 tackles.
“They’re just going to continue to improve,” Kelly said of his defense. “We just have to be a little more consistent, and we’ll be fine.”
Although the close eight-point loss to Hillsborough is promising for what might be ahead for Kelly’s team, he made no mistake in pointing out that this Strawberry Crest coaching staff doesn’t believe in moral victories.
“I don’t think anybody goes out there to lose,” Kelly said. “We were expecting to win that game. Obviously, we didn’t get it done, but that’s just going to motivate us moving forward as we take on King.”
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