Senior signal caller Demontre Neely has stepped up as a leader for the Pirates.
After the Matanzas football team’s 28-7 loss to University in a preseason scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 12, the Pirates’ second-year head coach, Don Mathews, noticed one thing in particular: his team was out of shape.
The weather this summer was unpredictable. Multiple practices were canceled due to lightning, affecting the team’s conditioning.
As a result, Mathews is in the process of restructuring how the Pirates are going to go about practice. Conditioning comes first.
“We’ve got to condition more, get more in shape,” senior quarterback Demontre Neely said. “We’ve got to come together as a team and get ready to play, to be ready for the season.”
During practice on the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 12 — the first day of school — the players ran hard. Some struggled to stand after running gassers, a drill where you sprint from one sideline to the other and back. A handful puked.
Mathews wants his practices to be as hard as possible so gameday will seem easier.
“I want them to understand that they’re being coached, not criticized,” he said. “Sometimes they just take it as criticism when we’re really just coaching them. You want to play with a chip on your shoulder, but you don’t want to have a bad attitude toward your coaches because we’re just trying to do what’s necessary in order to win.”
He added: “We all want to win, but not everybody is willing to do what’s necessary to win. That’s what we’re trying to show them.”
The offensive line is still expected to be the strength of the team, although there are “a few bugs that need to be worked out.” The unit returns most of its starters, except for former team captain Seaton Waldhauer, who now plays at Division I program Savannah State.
But of all the players, on both offense and defense, the one to emerge as a leader has been Neely, who is in his last season of high school football.
He hasn’t missed a practice all summer.
But on Monday, Neely could hardly walk, let alone run. He suffered a cramp in his left leg near the beginning of practice, but he couldn’t let that stop him. He hobbled from sideline to sideline in an attempt to complete the drill in time.
“Everybody is looking up to me, especially the young guys,” Neely said. “They’re seeing what I do. If I take my helmet off, they take their helmets off. If I get on my knees, they got on their knees. Knowing that, I can’t quit. I have to finish. If I quit, I know a lot of my teammates are going to quit. I’ve just got to push through the pain and finish.”
Mathews said his team, which is coming off a 3-7 season in 2018, needs more of that kind of attitude.
“You always want the quarterback to be the leader of the team,” he said. “Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. But Demontre’s stepping up and being that guy. He’s always the first one here and the last one to leave.”