Although the scoreboard has yet to suggest otherwise, head coach Collin Drafts insists the Nease High football program is improving.
Despite a 1-4 record, including a 42-13 home loss last week against Bartram Trail, Drafts said results have to be prefaced with a change in culture.
“We are still a very young team, a year or two of the program with me being the head coach,” Drafts said. “We’re focused on us and our process and trying to get just a little bit better day by day, week by week. We’re just trying to grow and keep our kids locked in and believing in our process.
“Regardless of what the outcomes are, from the experience I’ve been in from turning programs around, that’s what our focus is on. You sprinkle in all the other stuff we’re dealing with, it makes it, at times, difficult. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Drafts was challenged to change a program that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2014 – when most of his current players were still in elementary school.
“From a culture standpoint, our system and the way we operate, the way we practice and what we’ve asked of these guys, just playing as hard as they can every play, every day, that’s the biggest thing,” Drafts said. “I do see progress.”
The Panthers will try to continue their gradual development at St. Augustine Friday night at 7. The Yellow Jackets are 3-2 and coming off a 56-21 loss at Matanzas.
Ponte Vedra High also will be on the road. The Sharks, who beat Englewood 23-7 in Jacksonville last week, travel to Live Oak to play Suwannee (5-2) will be a formidable challenge to Ponte Vedra (5-10), especially since the Bulldogs are coming off 47-0 (against Palatka) and 21-0 (Wakulla) consecutive victories.
The COVID-19 pandemic created more uncertainty for a young Nease team, Drafts said. The routine he’s worked so hard to correct was turned upside-down by lockdowns and social distancing rules.
And yet, the challenging months seemed to solidify Nease’s resolve, Drafts said.
“It’s hard at times, even as a head coach when you’re basically dealing with a group of 14-to-18-year-old teenagers who are hammering along every day, sticking to the process,” he said. “It’s tough to point to success in the category of wins – obviously that’s why you play the game – but we are making progress.
“We do have kids more bought into our system, our culture than there was a year ago at this time. That’s what I’m most proud of. We have to line up against some really good teams every Friday night and we’re just trying to do the best we can. That’s all I can ask right now. We are taking the necessary steps in the right direction.”
And getting closer to where the program is defined solely by the scoreboard.