After calling his team together, Gulf Breeze High’s first-year football coach Bobby Clayton issued a future challenge.
But in a prideful way.
“That’s how it should be,” he said, raising his voice for emphasis in a post-game address to players. “That’s how we need to be. That’s the way we want this football team to play.”
If a spring game is a measurement of sorts, the Dolphins realized their gains after a toe-to-toe, full competitive game against rival Navarre Friday night at Dolphin Stadium.
With both teams minus top players, the Dolphins and Raiders finished the first half with varsity players tied 7-7. In the second half with backups, sophomores and other younger players in the mix, Navarre got a pair of TDs and took that half 14-7.
“Very pleased with the way we played,” said Clayton “The kids played hard. They had fight. We got a lot of things to look at and build upon heading in the summer.”
For Clayton, a 1993 Gulf Breeze High graduate, who worked nine years in two different stints as an assistant coach, returning to his alma mater to elevate the football program carries extra meaning. It showed last night.
“I gotta admit, I was a little emotional going out there,” he said. “It was different. I don’t know if I have ever felt that way before. You want this team to have success and to know what it’s like to expect to win.”
That’s how Navarre’s football team has been over the years.
The Raiders had their top player, one of the entire region’s best players, senior tailback Michael Carter in a sideline cheerleader role as he continues recovery from knee surgery following his season-ending injury early last season.
“He has been great with his injury,” said Navarre coach Jay Walls. “He has actually been cleared. We held him out this spring as far as contact. I think he’s going to be ready to go, game one. Matter of fact, I know he will be.”
On the their first offensive series, the Raiders produced a methodical 70-yard touchdown drive, largely on work of tailback Chandler Cooper. He finished the drive with a 20-yard touchdown with 6:45 left.
But from that point, the Gulf Breeze defense forced change of possessions the rest of the half. In this game, there was no punting, no kickoffs. If a team opted against a fourth-down try, the ball was placed at the other team’s 30 yard-line.
Early in the second quarter, the Dolphins had their own long drive. Rising junior quarterback Daniel Brayton, filling in for senior Tyler Phelps, completed several passes for gains, including a leaping catch by Parker Baynes with a defender draped on him to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Baynes.
The second half was a pair of 10-minute quarters. In the third quarter, Navarre’s Chris Williams broke free on a nine yard score, but Gulf Breeze sophomore receiver Spencer Segal caught a quick sideline screen from fellow sophomore Cooper Harris and turned into to a 51-yard touchdown.
The game’s final score was in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard run by Isaiah Mitchell.
“I think overall we had a really good spring,” Walls said. “We didn’t score a lot of points (during intrasquad practices), but we didn’t give up a lot of points, There was certainly some good stuff (last night). But we have a lot of work to do. But we knew that coming in.”
As Clayton reminded his team, the next step is a commitment to weight training and physical conditioning throughout the summer. He wants to see a positive experience last night get players into a mindset of reaching for me.
“Sometimes I think kids at Gulf Breeze… they wonder if they can be competitive,” he said.
In working the past couple years under Jerry Pollard at Pine Forest, Clayton said he learned how an ultra-successful coach can get the most from players.
“I learned so much from him each day,” he said.
He’s seeks to transfer the knowledge into good fortune at Gulf Breeze.