Injuries and youth have plagued the Pirates in 2018. Are they setting them up for success in years to come?
Every week was a challenge for the coaching staff of Matanzas High School’s football program.
Tweaked ankles, contusions, bum knees — and concussions — devasted both the Pirates’ varsity and junior varsity teams throughout the 2018 season.
Figuring out game-day rosters became a difficult task.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, figuring out where to put the pieces,” Matanzas’ first-year head coach Don Mathews said. “It was huge because numbers were low, and it’s just hard to move people around.”
JV coach Donald Lockhart said he’s comfortable with at least 22 kids on the roster. But every week, the JV team was shorthanded.
The JV Pirates had to reschedule their season opener with Flagler Palm Coast because of injuries. They played New Smyrna Beach with 20 on the roster, and they played — and beat — Mainland in the regular season finale on Oct. 11 with 16 active players.
Down by 7 points with 8 seconds left in the game, Pirates defensive tackle Nick Moran, who also had to play quarterback that game, forced a fumble, recovered it and ran it in for an 8-yard touchdown. The Pirates went for the 2-point conversion — and got it.
“It’s one of the best games I’ve ever coached,” said Lockhart, who’s coached at Matanzas for two years. “But the injures have been stressful. But as a coach, you have to be able to adapt. I have to do a great job of preparing the kids for the next battle.”
The injuries the varsity team has suffered throughout the season also depleted the JV’s roster. The Pirates were forced to promote JV players to the varsity team, adding to the inexperience of a team that is already dominated by underclassmen.
The youth and inexperience have been hard to overcome. Players miss assignments, get confused and have trouble grasping certain concepts.
“Even though they’re freshmen, like babies, they’ve got to play,” Mathews said. “That’s what I tell the guys after every game: We’re going to take our bumps and bruises because we’re playing with young, inexperienced kids.”
With one game remaining, the varsity Pirates are 3-6 on the season (2-3 in district play). But outside of significant losses to FPC and Treasure Coast, the Pirates have been competitive in every game, including against perennial powerhouse Mainland, in which the Pirates were only down 8 until the fourth quarter.
“They just don’t have the confidence right now. And they haven’t done it enough,” Mathews said. “Even though we rep a lot at practice, you can’t substitute the years of time in one year of practice. That’s why there’s not a lot of freshmen playing varsity. But that’s what we’ve had to do. It’s really just a matter of time.”
The talent is there: Freshman receiver Noah Cundiff, who Mathews called a “freak athlete,” sophomore running back Tristin Williams and sophomore linebacker Corey VanDyke have all taken significant strides this season.
The underclassmen recognize the pressure that comes with being forced to play early.
“There’s a lot of pressure because of our youth, but we’ve been able to make big plays,” Cundiff said. “We do our best. It’s hard on us, but we’re going to work hard.”
Mathews added that he expects the Pirates to be playoff-caliber in the coming years. His players agree.
“There’s going to be a movement,” VanDyke said. “This is going to be a different team.”