The difference between a winning team and a playoff team can be small, particularly in a competitive area and district, where one loss can make a big difference.
Palm Bay High’s football team found itself missing out on the playoff side of that equation last fall, but the Pirates showed they may have quickly put themselves back on the road to the postseason with a strong spring game. They defeated Royal Palm Beach, a Class 7A regional finalist last year, in convincing fashion.
Though head coach Dan Burke doesn’t like to overplay a spring game, he and his staff found positives in the play of the Pirates.
“Coming off a winning yet disappointing year, I think we needed a good performance in that game and got one,” Burke said.
Winning of any kind can create a positive bounce, and Pirates senior Carson White reported the team has been disciplined, something that has carried through to August preparation.
“It’s good when you have all your star players making practice on time and coming to work out every day faithfully,” he said.
“A lot of hard work,” Brian Lankford-Johnson added. “We had one day off and that was really Sunday. We were here with coach, bonding, lifting, getting better, ready for the season.”
Burke, who will complete two decades as Palm Bay head coach in 2015, called this team “as good a group of talented players as we have had in a while.”
Among them is Dez Arthur. While his natural position is receiver, he showed what he can do at quarterback in the spring game, especially via his running ability.
“Dez can make a bad play (into) a good play,” Burke said. “It’s good to have his hands on the ball every play.”
Arthur will have plenty of running company out of the backfield. Brian Lankford-Johnson brings speed. Chase Harris has good size and hands. Both Carson White and Jared Morris can play at fullback and tight end.
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One question to be answered during the season is how many Pirates will have to play both offense and defense, including on the line. That unit has seen turnover, but there are a number of seniors, including three-year starter Jake Howell.
Defensively, linebacker Twonnie Pollard showed early in his career he would be a player to watch, and he has at least seven scholarship offers as the season approaches. The play of the defense was one of the spring game highlights, forcing three first-quarter punts and shutting out Royal Palm Beach until the final drive.
“We got much better in the secondary, which has cost us in recent years. (Coordinator) Dino Colona has those guys playing much better,” Burke said. “We understand that fundamentals at all positions are your building blocks and got better there as well.”
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Brian_McCallum and at facebook.com/FLtoday.brianmccallum.
Palm Bay Pirates
Head coach: Dan Burke (20th season)
2014 record: 7-2
Aug. 28 Cocoa
Sept. 11 at Bayside
Sept. 18 Rockledge
Sept. 25 at Melbourne
Oct. 2 at Titusville
Oct. 9 at Viera
Oct. 15 Space Coast
Oct. 23 at Merritt Island
Oct. 30 Satellite
Nov. 6 Heritage