SEBRING — Playing for the same head coach for the second consecutive season, Sebring hopes the players' familiarity with Brian Palmer's system and his philosophy should help the Trojans become a better football team.
"They're more familiar with me and I'm more familiar with them," Palmer said. "I got the chance to work with them during the offseason and I saw how hard they worked."
Under Palmer, Sebring finished 0-10 overall and 0-7 in the first season of Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference play last season. While encouraged by their work ethic in the weight room, focusing on flexibility and explosiveness, Palmer heads into his second season with minimal available manpower, disclosing there are 16 players on the roster.
"It's not the ideal situation, but the kids we have love football," Palmer said. "They've worked hard during the offseason to get into better physical shape to play. They just need to go out and cut down on their mistakes."
For the second consecutive season, Palmer will be fielding an extremely youthful football, one that is even younger than the 2017 squad which only had five seniors to start the season. Josh Hammond, a four-year veteran lineman, and Jake Fullerton, a skill-position player, are the only two seniors on this year's roster. Hammond and Fullerton are part of a team which also consists of five first-year players, all freshmen transitioning from middle school football.
"We're young, but these kids have showed a good attitude during preseason practice, but we still need to keep gaining more football knowledge," said the second-year head coach.
Every Sebring player has an offensive and defensive position, starting with Hammond (guard and defensive line), Fullerton (wide receiver and defensive back), and junior Zane Peterson (quarterback and linebacker). Due to lack of numbers, which translates to no depth, several players will start on offense, defense and on special teams.
"We'd like to have more kids, so we could have some depth, but we have to play with the people we get, and that's why I'm pleased we're a better conditioned team than we were a year ago, because we plan on starting nine kids both ways," Palmer said.
Starting his second year at quarterback, Peterson brings a more refined skill to that position.
"He has developed into a better passer," Palmer added. "He's throwing the ball with more velocity and with more accuracy."
Peterson and Fullerton were the primary offensive weapons last year, but twin freshman running backs Elijah and Noah Frederick are expected to bring a different dimension to the attack.
"The Fredericks aren't real big (weighing 120 pounds apiece), but they both have very good speed and that should allow us to open up the offense," Palmer added.
With a first-year head coach mentoring a first-year starting quarterback last season, Palmer admitted he was more focused on establishing the run first to not only minimize the pressure on the passing attack, but also to control the clock and keep the opposing offense off the field.
Critiquing Sebring's offensive talent and its potential one year later, Palmer intends on changing the offensive mind-set.
"We want to use the pass to open up the run this year, taking advantage of our speed and athleticism to use the entire field," he said. "For us to be successful at that, we have to cut down on turning the ball over. We turned the ball over too much last season."
Those Sebring turnovers last season resulted in the defense spending too much time on the field, with the unit giving up points at a rapid rate.
The Trojans yielded more than 500 points last season, so better ball security by the offense is essential. The defense, however, must be more fundamentally sound.
"We have to be more aggressive on defense, we need to take better pursuit angles and we have to tackle better," Palmer added. "We've been working on tackling, using the rugby-style (approach) where you wrap legs and twist. If the technique is executed properly, it prevents (opposing backs and ends) from breaking tackles."
One scrimmage doesn't make a season, but Palmer was encouraged how the Sebring defense, led up front by Hammond and Noah Dennis, Peterson and Byrd at linebacker, and Fullerton in the secondary, played against Leetonia.
"The defense was aggressive, and that's a start," Palmer concluded. "We just have to keep working on getting better on defense, but also on offense, special teams and mentally."