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Sebring’s numbers don’t add up, but they won’t back down

THEY WON’T BACK DOWN

By Brian Dzenis

bdzenis@vindy.com

SEBRING

Holden Bennett dislocated a finger so badly this season that bone broke broke skin. The jack-of-all trades in the Sebring football team’s offense only missed one game before returning to action with a heavily bandaged hand.

He didn’t need to hurry. The Trojans are 0-6 and have been outscored 333-36. Sebring — a team that currently boasts 14 healthy and eligible players — will end the season with the label of being the Mahoning Valley’s lone team without a playoff appearance, but Bennett couldn’t wait to come back.

“It’s fun,” Bennett said. “Being used and abused, it’s fun.”

That’s the simple explanation for why the Trojans keep coming back. It’s just a matter of getting a few more kids to believe to get Sebring back on track.

“We don’t really have a history of winning, so people don’t want to come out,” senior two-way lineman Zach Thomas said. “If you have that attitude, we don’t need you anyway.”

Former Youngstown State kicker Brian Palmer has taken the Trojans’ gig as his first head coaching job at any level. He started the year with 19 players. Two players quit, one was dismissed and injuries have taken their toll.

“I learned to have patience. What I try to instill into the kids is to not judge a book by its cover,” Palmer said. “I know we have 14 kids, but the scores don’t dictate how proud I am of the kids getting out there and performing week after week. It takes a lot of character to do it week after week.

The “life comes at you fast” moment for Palmer didn’t happen at Schaeffer-Davies Stadium, but at Stambaugh Stadium.

To drum up interest and reward the players who stick around on the numbers-challenged football team, Palmer has an incentive program. The reward in Week 3 was a tailgate and going to YSU’s home opener against Robert Morris.

The team heard from a guest speaker, who the younger players thought was some kind older gentlemen in black slacks and a YSU pullover. The older players and Palmer knew the speaker as Jim Tressel.

“It makes me feel really old,” Palmer, 33, said. “At least some of the upperclassmen and the varsity guys knew, but for those junior high guys, oh man. They just don’t follow football too much.”

Sebring’s football team skews young. There’s five combined juniors and seniors and the rest are sophomores and freshman. Its junior high team has 15 players. These players range from youth football lifers like Thomas and Bennett, kids who left the sport for years and want to come back and band kids who want to give the gridiron a shot. Palmer, who teaches at Sebring, offers a “Football 101” class for some of the sport’s novices.

“Our old running back never watched football on TV,” sophomore quarterback Zane Peterson said. “He didn’t watch any sports.”

The players view their games as a chance to really learn the concepts from the coaching staff. It’s difficult to do that in practice because the roster size prohibits them from practicing an offense versus a defence. With no line on either side, Peterson throws to his receivers, who have no defensive backs against them. Sometimes, the coaches line up trash cans as defensive linemen and coaches shoot the gaps between them to teach how to play against a blitzing defense. The linemen have their sled.

“In general, short passes are our niche,” Thomas said. “We have our times running the ball and we have a lot of trick plays.”

The players expect to win games this year and while they will not reach the postseason this year, those who stuck it out have the chance to lay a foundation for future players to work with. They also got to play football under the lights.

“We’re playing really hard. We may not have the playmakers, but we’re still trying,” Thomas said. “Everyone on this team loves the game and if they didn’t before the season, they do now.

“It’s what you learn with such a small team.”



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