ORANGE PARK - Ridgeview High football coach Matt Knauss, who struggled through a one win first season last year, sees a little light at the end of the tunnel for the potential of 2020 and it is all about numbers.
“We had a tremendous turnout for week one of the conditioning program and that is encouraging,” said Knauss. “I think we had near 70 athletes out there last week and the enthusiasm was very high. The numbers alone were very humbling. We didn’t lose one starter to transfer which would be expected after a 1-9 season.”
With the Phase 2 return to football conditioning county wide, Knauss, who had lamented the shutdown of a potentially strong weightlifting team finish in the spring, saw the fitness level at his first week of conditioning as impressive.
“The returning kids did the work during the shutdown,” said Knauss. “We had a surprising number of kids cleared quickly to play. We had 77 kids show up with some not paperwork ready to participate. I was shocked at the readiness.”
Knauss saw the first week as encouraging because, on top of the loss of the spring game and that month of preparation and analysis, his ability to develop strong relationships during last year’s season came through with the added enthusiasm.
“The kids were really fired up; definitely a different atmosphere from last year,” said Knauss. “The kids had time to know me from last year, I had time to get to know them. My kind of coaching centers around the relationship of myself and my coaches with each athlete.”
With the format of the new Phase 2 return, teams were required to stay under 20 people in a group; 19 athletes plus a coach with the six feet of distance between bodies. Sessions lasted anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes with plenty of awareness as to sanitation and cleanliness. No equipment was used; blocking sleds, tires, etc. Weightlifting sessions were set to be added to week two.
“The intensity level without the closeness was tough to overcome, but my returners; quarterback Max Monroe, linebacker Miika Tuisano, A.J. Beaufort and running back Juan Pereira were out ther pushing guys verbally,” said Knauss. “The returners don’t want that 1-9 to be followed by anything close to that. That is not something you want, as an athlete, to carry around the rest of your life after its over. They want to show that despite a 1-9 record last year, we were a few plays away from a district title.”
With two quarterbacks returning; Monroe and Ben Gardiner, Knauss sees the offensive line again as the key to the Panthers getting the ball downfield.
“It looked like we had a good group of young guys that were all pushing three bills (300 pounds),” said Knauss. “We got some new faces. We got guys coming in bigger and stronger; Josh Dorsainvil was one guy that is a total new package.”
Knauss liked the push to working hard on the field with the Virus probability still an unknown factor in the fall season.
“My message is ‘you’ll never take it for granted’,” said Knauss. “This was a special week to kind of stretch out, see the guys and see the intensity. They kept themselves ready to go on a short notice and I hope we can maintain some momentum.”