Matanzas first-year coach Don Mathews will have to figure out how to replace the production of the winningest senior class in school history.
Don Mathews was faced with a conundrum when he was hired to replace Robert Ripley as Matanzas’ head football coach on Dec. 12. Mathews, the Pirates' defensive coordinator for the past five years, had to find out how to replace the production of the winningest senior class in school history. The Pirates graduated eight starters last season. Four of those players will be playing college football in 2018, two of whom will be playing Division I.
When asked how he planned to replace the hole left by Jarrett Patton, Dru Bowens, Tylee Austin and his own son Devin — a quartet that led the Pirates to their second playoff appearance ever in 2017 — Mathews was frank.
“You can’t replace that production,” he said. “You can’t ever try. All we can do is take the guys we have and do the best we can with them. That’s it.”
The Pirates entered fall practice on Monday, July 30, with question marks at several positions. The quarterback battle between junior Demontre Neely and senior Josef Powell is still ongoing. The reality is that both players will get their fair share of playing time running the team’s triple option offense.
Defensively, the Pirates are young.
While seniors dominated the defensive line in 2017, the line is now comprised of mainly sophomores.
“I know we’re going to take bumps and bruises and stuff like that,” Mathews said. “But I’m hoping that the offense is a strong point of this team.
The only sure thing about the Pirates is who will be leading them once the season starts: Powell, who plays four other positions in addition to QB, offensive lineman Seaton Waldhauer, wide receiver Curtis Gray.
And defensive back Branden Gilyard.
Gilyard, a senior, has started for Matanzas for the past three years.
“Branden’s been a staple of our defense,” Mathews said. “I’m expecting him to really step up to — I don’t want to say a huge season — but be important for us. Not so much stats and stuff like that, but being a role model and a perfect player for Matanzas.”
Gilyard said he has used the start of practice to prepare the younger members of the defense.
“The boys already look up to me,” he said. “So now, I’m really just paving the way, making sure they do what they’ve got to do and making sure that I’m on top of my game.”
He added: “We’re trying to get them mentally prepared more than physically prepared, because if you’re mentally prepared, you can understand what’s going on and can actually put your knowledge together and make something happen.”