T.E.A.M has been an acronym bandied so long the cliché could probably collect Social Security checks. While that is the motto for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind football program, second-year head coach Christian DeNight has a different definition.
DeNight wants the Dragons to be Tough-minded; Earn it on the field; have Attitudes that are positive and More of the above. “If we become great in that, we will be a good team,” DeNight said. “A positive attitude has to be first. It’s not about size … it’s about the kind of heart and will to develop talent.”
What’s next for the Dragons is confidence they can break their 10-game losing streak. The Dragons scored 40 points in eight games in 2016. With a new offense and a number of returnees who will play on both sides of the ball, the expectation is that winning football will return to Usina Field.
“I think compared to last year and this year, we have a lot of returning players with offensive and defensive experience,” DeNight said. “Last year, we only had one experienced player offensively and defensively.”
On the first day of practice, there were more than 20 Dragons in white helmets working on assignments in the pistol offense. That didn’t include senior running back Ernest Bristol, who will be entering his third year on varsity, and likely play key downs on both sides of the ball.
“It’s a lot more balanced and we’re used to a lot of the rushing game,” said senior quarterback DeanJames D’Angelo. “Now, we have more of a balanced offense and it’s a good one.” D’Angelo fractured his right wrist in October 2015. The initial thought was he would not need surgery, but that plan changed last summer and he went under the knife. He missed the entire 2016 season.
The Dragons were winless last year but lost to Model Secondary 16-14 in September and narrowly lost to the Silent Warriors from the Alabama School for the Deaf 6-0 in October after hardly practicing for weeks due to the havoc Hurricane Matthew caused in terms of logistics and field conditions. As disappointing as the season was, a competitive spring game against Gainesville St. Francis infused belief into the team. The Dragons didn’t win, but a one-point halftime deficit against a fellow North Florida Football Conference opponent was evidence they were turning the corner.
“As players, they didn’t like losing and we talked about that,” DeNight said. “We have to work harder. … It’s time to reach those high expectations. We are competing with other teams and we want to reach that challenge. Last spring, they got it. … We’re going to do a lot better. The goal is to continue to improve. The goal is to win.”
It will certainly help to have nearly a half-dozen returning starters who expect to play on both sides of the football. Liam Von Mahr may be an undersized interior lineman, but the senior from Tampa is a member of the FSDB wrestling team and knows how to leverage what size he has. Right guard Wallace Burrell doesn’t have that issue. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, the senior from West Palm Beach is not only the biggest person on the team, he may have the largest personality as well.
Switching from the veer to the pistol means the Dragons will not be reliant on the running game and not up the creek — or in their case the Tolomato River — without a paddle. “If they win, they will be confident,” DeNight said. “That will raise the bar, the ‘M’ means more, more, more. Against St. France at halftime it was 14-13. You saw the fire in their eyes. We lost the opportunity, but the kids really got it.”
Strength: Coach Christian DeNight said special teams will be an area his team can bring its aggressiveness and improved tackling to the forefront. The coach added senior Samy Vital is someone who can make explosive plays in the return game.
Area to Improve: The Dragons were outscored 281-40 last year and DeNight said a key to turning around their 10-game losing streak is an improved attitude, coming from a belief in their mental and physical capabilities.
Key Returnees: Sophomore Tayshaun Smith plays defensive end and has dabbled at center for the Dragons in fall camp. Senior Liam Von Mahr is penciled in to play right guard and nose tackle. Wallace Burrell is in line to be the right tackle. Meanwhile, Ernest Bristol and Vital are two who primarily played in the backfield last year who will likely play offense, defense and special teams.
Promising Newcomer: Doug Meehan is a senior wide receiver and tight end who will also see time at linebacker. His twin, Darren, is also a new addition.
Conference Outlook: The Florida High School Athletic Association’s new playoff format will have little bearing on the Dragons, as they elected to remain independent and ineligible for the postseason. FSDB remains a member of the North Florida Football Conference. The Dragons’ first game of the season, against Gainesville Oak Hall, will likely be their sternest test. If they can fly with the Eagles, the second year of the DeNight era will be more competitive than the first.
Aug. 28 at Gainesville Oak Hall*
Aug. 31 vs. Daytona Beach Halifax
Sept. 14 vs. Merritt Island Christian
Sept. 21 at St. Johns Country Day*
Oct. 5 at Harvest Community School
Oct. 12 vs. Gainesville St. Francis*
Oct. 21 vs. Alabama School for the Deaf
Oct. 26 at St. Joseph*
Nov. 2 TBA
2016 Results | Record:
Aug. 25 vs. Gainesville Oak Hall L 56-0*
Sept. 10 vs. Model Secondary School for the Deaf L 16-14
Sept. 15 at Somerset Academy L 27-0
Sept. 22 vs. St. Johns Country Day L 27-8*
Oct. 3 vs. Daytona Beach Halifax Academy L 40-12
Oct. 22 at Alabama School for the Deaf L 6-0
Oct. 27 vs. St. Joseph L 47-6*
Nov. 4 vs. Maryland School for the Deaf L 62-0
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) is a fully accredited state public school and outreach center available tuition-free to eligible Pre-K and K-12 deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired students. Comprehensive educational services at FSDB are individualized, specific to the unique communication and accessibility needs of each student for independence and lifelong success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To visit the school or to learn more about eligibility for enrollment, contact 1-800-344-3732. For more information, visit www.fsdb.k12.fl.us.