Posted: 10:03 am Friday, August 21st, 2009
By Jason Lieser
Considering he mentioned Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick as two of his biggest coaching role models, it’s not surprising that Keith Byars is unwilling to divulge many details about his football team.
Boca Raton hired Byars, a 13-year NFL veteran, in May and it has been a summer of adjustments for the coach and the players. The players are learning a new offense and defense. Byars is learning that high school coaches sometimes have to pick up all the equipment after practice and make sure water jugs are filled.
He inherited a team that went 8-3 last year and reached the regional quarterfinals under former coach Eddie Giersbrook, who was forced to resign in the middle of an FHSAA investigation concerning the transfer of quarterback Eddie Sullivan from Park Vista. The Bobcats graduated four offensive linemen who were opening-night starters last season and return just eight starters overall.
Last year, Boca Raton averaged 30.3 points per game in the regular season. Sullivan (6-2, 200, No. 17 on The Big Board) was second in the area with 239 pass attempts and 70.8 percent of the Bobcats’ total offense came via the pass. Sullivan completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 2,003 yards and 26 touchdowns. He is committed to play for Wake Forest next year.
Byars believes Sullivan will play even better this year, but does not think he will match those numbers. He did not discuss specifics, but Byars said the offense will be more balanced this season and he does not plan on Sullivan throwing quite as often as he did in 2008.
“He doesn’t necessarily have to throw for that many yards to have a great game,” Byars said. “We’ll definitely have more balance this year. We’re going to run the spread, but that’s not the only thing we’re going to run. Last year we were strictly a spread team and that takes out the tight ends and the running backs. We’ve got four or five running backs. If I’m overloaded at one position, I’m going to use them.”
I think Sullivan will end up coming pretty close to last year’s statistics. Byars might desire a more balanced offense, but Boca Raton will find out early that its best chance to win is to let Sullivan throw the ball 25 times per game and eventually Byars will relent.
One interesting point about Sullivan: this is his third offensive system in three years. Byars said Sullivan has looked great as far as making his throws, but still would like to see him improve his mastery of the playbook before the Bobcats open the season against West Boca Raton on Sept. 4.
The Bobcats only allowed 87 points last season (35 of those were Dwyer’s), but the number of new faces on defense is concerning. The most notable absence is safety Brandan Bishop, who is now playing for North Carolina State. With Bishop gone, Byars said keep an eye on three safeties who will try to replace his production: senior Justin Halley (6-2, 180), junior Cameron Lewis and sophomore Lamar Coney. Lewis will also be the team’s back-up quarterback.
“We’re going to be young on both sides of the ball, but we’ve got some young, hungry Bobcats coming in here,” Byars said. “The defense will be a little different style this year. It will be more of an attacking defense, rather than a read-and-react. We’re going to make the action happen.”
Byars credited Giersbrook for instituting disciplined among the players before he left and has been especially pleased with their commitment level. Most of what Byars is teaching in those departments is similar to what players heard last year, just “from a different voice.”
One change Byars implemented, though, is a hair policy. He is not allowing players to have hair showing from the back of their helmets, a rule he picked up from his college coach, Earle Bruce.
“When I was at Ohio State we couldn’t wear hair out of our helmets and we couldn’t wear facial hair,” Byars said. “I’ll let them wear facial hair here, but you ain’t going to be looking wild. You’re going to be groomed. It’s my rule. Some things around here are a democracy and some things are a dictatorship. This is one of those dictatorship rules.
“You’ll get used to it later on in life. If you’re a judge and a lawyer comes into your office with a Hawaiian shirt and some flip flops and some sunglasses, I don’t think the judge is going to let him practice law that day. He can know everything about the law, but the judge is not going to let you come in his courthouse that day. You’ve got to look the part.”
Boca Raton also moved up from Class 4A to 6A this season. The good news is that Dwyer won’t be in the Bobcats’ way anymore, but 8-6A is probably the most solid district in the area from front to back. Atlantic will be the clear favorite, but Boca Raton should be able to edge Seminole Ridge, Park Vista and Palm Beach Central for a playoff berth.
The Bobcats will play four teams that made last year’s post-season: Palm Beach Lakes, Glades Central, Park Vista and Atlantic. This season’s opponents combined for a .604 winning percentage a year ago. Here is the Bobcats’ 2009 schedule (last year’s record in parenthesis):
Week 1, vs. West Boca Raton (5-5)
Week 2, at Palm Beach Lakes (4-7)
Week 3, BYE
Week 4, at Seminole Ridge (7-3)
Week 5, vs. Olympic Heights (4-6)
Week 6, vs. Glades Central (11-1)
Week 7, at Santaluces (4-6)
Week 8, at Palm Beach Central (6-4)
Week 9, vs. Atlantic (11-1)
Week 10, vs. Park Vista (8-3)
Week 11, at Boynton Beach (4-6)