Gators prepare for year one as independent

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After a controversial decision to go independent, head coach Daniel Robinson and the Spring Creek football team is ready to put last year’s 1-10 season behind them and start a new era of Gators football in the swamp.

The Gators ran a wing-T offense last year, which is a run-heavy offensive style, but with Robinson calling the plays this year, the Gators are set to return to a more balanced spread attack. The change comes after the team was called “predictable” last year when the Gators struggled with their execution on the offensive line. Their weaknesses were on display due to opposing defenses being able to stuff the box because they knew a run play was most likely coming. With a spread attack, defenses are going to be forced to cover skill players on the outside, which will open up lanes for the running backs and quarterback. 

Junior Lucas Barfield is going to be called on to throw and run this year for the Gators in their spread attack. The 6-foot-1 quarterback has the tools to lead a potent Gators attack, the question will be: can the Gators execute another point of emphasis for coach Robinson this offseason? 

Robinson has questions of his own, though, regarding the Gators’ skill positions.

“Our receivers are going to have to develop quickly, that’s probably our biggest question mark right now,” he said. “Hopefully, going into these jamborees, I can figure out whom I can lean on more with moving the ball.” 

Senior Israel Graham will be looked upon to be one of those guys to step up early this year. Graham played some offensive guard and linebacker last year but he will be transitioning to running back on the offensive side of the ball this season to give the Gators another weapon in the backfield. Coach Robinson explained the move saying, “Israel is just one of the kids that can do anything. He was pretty successful in track, he works hard in the weight room and he said he was up for the challenge, so we’re excited to see him develop.” 

A team can have talented individuals on the offensive side of the ball, but without the offensive line, it is tough for anyone to put up consistent numbers and Robinson said he feels very confident that his offensive line has grown tremendously since the last time fans in the swamp watched them. 

“I got high hopes for everyone on the line, I feel like we’re stronger up front this year and with the balanced attack, I think they’ll execute better since there won’t be so many people stacked in the box. They seem to be picking up things well right now. They’re young, but I’m optimistic that they will be OK.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Gators coaching staff is looking for the defensive line to make a huge impact. The line is also the most experienced group on defense. Coach Paul Hayes will be returning for the defense, which benefitted the Gators this offseason as returners didn’t have to learn new terminology. 

“The defensive players know what they’re doing,” Robinson said, but “the key will be finishing plays because we missed a lot of tackles last year but if we can get that down, we’ll be fine.” 

Spring Creek’s first challenger in its 2019 campaign will be the Spartans of Smithfield-Selma High School, who also finished last season with a 1-10 record. 

“On paper, they’ve struggled over the last few seasons but they normally have some pretty good athletes over there, but our kids are excited to play and especially to be playing teams that we’re not accustomed to seeing,” Robinson said. “I think it’s extremely important for this program to get a game or two early in the season. We want our guys to feel competitive when they go into these games, that will make all the difference for our program.”

The Gators will square off with the Spartans on Friday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. in Smithfield.

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