Posted: 9:41 am Saturday, April 11th, 2009
By Jason Lieser
It seems like it’s always football time in this area, and spring practices are just three weeks away.
Palm Beach Central is always one of the most discussed teams in the county, and head coach Rod Harris spent time this week talking about the future of his program.
The Broncos missed the playoffs last year, but finished 6-4, their best season ever. Their defense allowed roughly 100 fewer yards per game compared to 2007, and lowered its points allowed average from 27.8 to 23.5. The offense was more problematic. The Broncos threw 12 interceptions and allowed eight defensive touchdowns.
Palm Beach Central will graduate 17 opening-day starters from 2008: nine on defense and eight on offense. That means Harris and his staff have a lot of decisions to make before the season begins, and that process begins next month.
Palm Beach Post: What can you actually accomplish in May?
Rod Harris: “You can do a lot. We’re going to install and offense and a defense because we’re going to be extremely young. We lost about 30 seniors and we’ve got a lot of question marks this spring. We have so many positions open right now and we have plenty of nice young kids.”
PBP: How many starting spots are open right now?
Harris: “Realistically, probably around 15 or 16.”
PBP: And how many of those can be settled next month?
Harris: “Probably half of them. We’ll get an idea. May is when you see how much they’ve been working in January, February and March. You see the development. Kids are putting on 10-12 pounds and getting faster. We had a lot of kids running track so it will be interesting to see when we get out there.”
PBP: You had quarterback issues last year, and now the starting spot is open. Who is competing for the job this spring?
Harris: “Torrance Kerney and Melvin Grase. They’re both going to be juniors. That’s probably the No. 1 thing we’ve got to figure out between now and Sept. 1.
“We’re going to find out pretty quickly. It’s not just throwing, but can you make the right reads and can you lead the offense? Can you run it efficiently and minimize turnovers? That’s the criteria for any quarterback.”
PBP: Will it remain a conservative offense?
Harris: “It depends on the quarterback. If the quarterback comes in and picks up the offense, we’ll probably throw a little bit more. I don’t have an answer right now, but we’ve got four months to figure it out. It’s going to be an interesting battle.”
PBP: One starter we can probably mark down is tight end Max Martial (6-3, 250). Outside of your campus, he’s a relatively unknown name, but what makes him such a special talent?
Harris: “He’s probably running a 4.6 or 4.7 (in the 40-yard dash). By the end of the spring, he’s going to have much more of a name than he does right now. He’s physically gifted. To me he’s the Division I prospect at tight end.
“Right now, at this point, he’s a great athlete. We’ve got a lot of things to work on with in-line blocking. In fairness to him, he came in early in the season last year. He wasn’t here in the spring. He’s from the area, but he moved up to Jacksonville and then his parents moved back here. We didn’t get him until August — the first day of practice basically. We don’t go as slow in August as we do in May.”
PBP: Anyone else who could make a name for himself this spring?
Harris: “There’s a couple of them. The right tackle, Robinson Fatu (6-2, 315). He’s got great feet, great explosion. He’s probably lost 25 pounds due to wrestling. Peniel Jean (5-11, 175) is a kid who is going to get a scholarship at safety. Another one is Angelo Jean Louis (CB, 5-11, 175). He’s going to be a sophomore and he’s going to be pretty good.”
PBP: Shane McDermott (6-3, 250), an offensive lineman who committed to Miami, is arguably your best player. Is anyone better at their position than he is at his?
Harris: “Absolutely not.”
PBP: Are you glad McDermott committed early?
Harris: “I think it will be easier for him. He’s going to have less phone calls, less trips. He’s not visiting any schools. For him and his family, I think it’s going to be easier.
“I get calls about him all the time, but they’re starting to slow down. I say, ‘He’s committed to Miami.’
PBP: But that doesn’t really mean anything anymore, does it?
Harris: “It means something here. If a guy commits, I’m not going to tell him to keep visiting other schools. If you commit, that’s where you’re going. I’ve had discussions with his parents, and they believe in that also. We’re all moving in the same direction and Shane’s ecstatic. As far as I’m concerned, unless something crazy happens, he’s going to Miami. It makes it less stressful for him.”
PBP: Even though a rebuilding year can be difficult, is there a lot of promise here, possibly beyond 2009?
Harris: “This year we’re going to be young. We’re going to have a lot of sophomores in the fall that are going to play key spots. The young program here is going to be very good if the kids develop. If they get bigger, get faster, they could be pretty special. This year’s freshmen could be the class that really does well. I’m expecting big things from that.”
PBP: Given that it’s a rebuilding season for your team, how do you feel about your new district (Atlantic, Boca Raton, Park Vista, Seminole Ridge)?
Harris: “The district is an incredible district. I like to say it’s the SEC of Palm Beach County. The winning percentage is probably .750. It’s going to be tough for everyone. The district champ could be 2-2, but I do think Atlantic’s the clear favorite.
“We welcome the challenge. We’re not ducking anyone. We don’t mind. We’re looking forward to it. One game is not going to be the end-all in this district. You could lose to a team and then they get knocked off the next week. Kids want to play in the big games. I’d rather have this.”
PBP: What about the non-district schedule?
Harris: “Our first two games are two of the best teams in Palm Beach County. Royal Palm’s been good for a while, and Glades’ history is second to no one.
“Glades is a great program and a great atmosphere. It gets you ready to play in the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt to play teams like that.”
PBP: You guys will end up facing some of the best receivers in the area when see Royal Palm Beach, Atlantic and Glades Central. Do you have enough speed to handle those teams?
Harris: “We’re going to be younger, but we’re going to be faster in the secondary. But how many teams have people to match up with those guys? That’s why they’re so special. We’re going to have our hands full.”
PBP: Obviously the team that isn’t on your schedule is Wellington. You guys split the first six games of the Wellington Cup and now that series is on hold at best. Are you upset?
[For the record: Wellington turned down Palm Beach Central's request to play in the regular season but offered to face the Broncos in the spring game or in the pre-season game this fall]
Harris: “I’m thoroughly disappointed with Wellington’s cancellation of the Wellington Cup game. It’s the first year in school history that they’ve cancelled it. I’m hopeful that they’ll reconsider and play us again in 2011.
“It’s unfortunate because it’s a game both schools look forward to. Both schools get really hyped up for the game, school spirit’s great and I wish we were able to continue the game.”
PBP: Why do you think Wellington doesn’t want to play you in the regular season?
Harris: “The first three years Wellington won and we’ve won the last three years. Why he cancelled the game is beyond me. He took something away that’s good for the community and that’s extremely unfortunate. They never gave me a reason. They’re in a small district, so they had a lot of room to schedule us, but they didn’t. They even went out of county to play teams instead of playing us.”
PBP: They offered to play you in an exhibition game. Why was that unacceptable to you?
Harris: “I don’t think you should play a Wellington Cup game in a pre-season game where we’re going to play 60-70 kids. Are they going to change the Muck Bowl to the kickoff classic this year?
“To me, that’s not even a consideration. It cheapens it beyond belief.”
PBP: You’re coming up to one full year on the job. How do you evaluate the work you’ve done to this point?
Harris: “It was nice. We had the first winning season in school history, going 6-4 with a very difficult schedule. We have things going in the right direction. We got the community talking about the program again. The kids are happy to play here. But you don’t judge someone off one year. Let’s give it a few years.
“We got things done that we wanted. It was a positive year, but we didn’t achieve all of our goals. Our goal is to win a state championship here, down the road. It’s off a little bit right now. We’re not there yet, but that’s what we’re working for.”