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Nature Coast is fired up for its matchup against Springstead, which has been more low-key.
By IZZY GOULD, Times Staff Writer
Published September 7, 2007
SPRING HILL - It's spirit week at Nature Coast, and Springstead knows all about it.
Between classes, the hallways at Nature Coast flood with trembling freshmen who hope to fit in with the confident upperclassmen.
They're all on the same page when it comes to spirit week. Eagle feathers on the ground get a few laughs, as do the rubber chickens a few students firmly grip. Last year, kids tied fake eagles to ropes and dragged them from history to algebra class.
Nature Coast planned a big pep rally this week and a bonfire to boost moral for its biggest rival and the game a few miles to the west.
Sharks coach Jamie Joyner joked how he expected some of those fake eagles would probably get tossed into the blaze, further fueling the spirit of his student body.
The series quickly got personal for the Sharks in 2005 when Springstead shredded them in a 43-0 romp.
Tonight, they return to the scene with a very different twist to the third series meeting. The Eagles 1-0 are recovering from a 5-5 season in 2006, including the end of a three-year unbeaten streak against county teams.
Nature Coast (1-0) ended it with an improbable 15-10 milestone victory, marking the program's first county win.
"I've never felt anything like it, really," Nature Coast linebacker Damian Diaz said. "I didn't get to play in district championship (because of a knee injury), but the whole summer, we really focused on playing Springstead. That win is what set the program off."
When Springstead's kids roam the hallways, no one's dangling a shark from a rope. Some of the guys got a few pats on the back for a 21-14 opening-week victory against Crystal River, but there are plenty of doubters and even a few haters in the home nest.
"We get a lot of disapproval from students around the halls," Springstead fullback David Bushnell said. "In the classroom there's kids that disrespect us, but we just stick together. We believe we can win."
The Eagles still must answer questions, beginning with junior quarterback James Mahla, who gained some respect last week rushing for 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He sparked a two-headed attack with Bushnell, rushing for 85 yards and a score.
But the hype this season surrounds Nature Coast and plenty of talented players. Sophomore running back Tevin Drake had 143 yards and two touchdowns last week in a 39-7 win at Dunnellon. And Stephen Pelaez proved he could step in to the starting quarterback role with his 96 rushing yards and 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Fields.
"Is the game a matter of life and death? Absolutely not," Springstead coach Bill Vonada said. "... I would say the game has taken on added significance because of last year not only because of the fact that they beat us, but because of some of the reaction we noticed after the game. There were some hard feelings after last year."