Posted: 12:39 pm Friday, May 20th, 2011

Spring Football Tour (video): Young, talented Atlantic on a mission this season 

By Matt Porter

Note: Welcome to the PBGametime 2011 Spring Football Tour. During our three-week tour, we visit area teams, meet some of the top players and answer the most pressing questions. Today’s stop is Atlantic, where the Eagles look to build on last year’s playoff appearance.

Click below to see the video, and come back at PBGametime.com in the coming days as we make more stops around the area.

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Atlantic made the playoffs last season and wants to do the same in a realigned district. That’s the goal for this season.

Coach Chris Bean takes a much longer view of things. Aside from wins and losses, last season was about changing the attitudes in the locker room. For the next couple years, he said, he wants his program to be the pride of Delray Beach.

With a lot of talented sophomores, juniors and seniors this fall, there’s plenty to excite Atlantic fans. It remains to be seen whether the Eagles can earn a playoff spot in a district that includes Dwyer and Lake Worth, and past that, whether they can make noise in the regionals.
Here are some themes and things to watch this spring:

Talk of the town. Aside from being a ridiculously fun game to watch, Atlantic’s spring game against Glades Central promises to be a barometer of where the two programs are, according to Bean.

“They were great enough and dominant enough to win state championships. Atlantic has been there on the doorstep four times,” he said. “That haunts this school until that state championship is brought back.”

There’s plenty of talented players in Delray, but not everyone goes to Atlantic. Bean’s goal is for all of them to want to be Eagles.

“A lot of kids that live in Delray, they go other places. So establishing that pride factor back in this school, this community, this city, that can get kids that go to Carver [Middle School], make sure they go to Atlantic and don’t go anywhere else. That’s what this game is all about. Bring that excitement back.”

Bean says there’s been “a disconnect” with Atlantic fans since the high school moved from its old location several years ago. He wants his team playing in front of a full house, and he hopes this game against Glades Central creates a buzz.

“We’ve got to reestablish our relationship with the City of Delray and the community of Delray and the supporters, the true supporters, of Atlantic High School. If we can get that back, that relationship that we had, the pride that we had with this city, I think we can be a team that’s as competitive and be just as good as St. Thomas, just as good as Dwyer, just as good as Glades Central.

Bean spoke about Dwyer gaining national exposure thanks to its game on ESPN. He wants Atlantic to be nationally known and ‘feared’ in the state of Florida. He admits it might not happen on his watch, but Bean wants this year to be a boost for the program, and it begins with a strong showing in the spring game against Glades Central.

“This program needs a little charge,” Bean said. “It needs to be energized a little bit. That’s what we need to accomplish.”

“I’ve had alumni of Atlantic High who played in championship games go to Muck Bowl to see them play,” Bean said. “I want to get to the point where nobody’s thinking about the Muck Bowl in Delray when Atlantic is playing. That’s the charge we’re looking for.”

Defense solid, not spectacular. Atlantic’s swarming defense held opponents to 165 total yards and 12.5 points per game last season. Four college-bound players are gone: linemen Luther Maddy and Wedley Estime, and linebackers Jephete Matilus and Martavius Lewis. Despite that, the Eagles shouldn’t fall too far.

Though the defensive line is rebuilding, but the linebackers and secondary are looking stout.

Junior-to-be Bruce Thomas (5-10, 200) returns at linebacker. Two seniors-to-be, Jamal Evans (5-10, 190) and Hunter Raulerson (5-10, 190), should have the other spots lined up.

The secondary should be strong, with Gerard Fulton, Brisly Estime and Darrion Richardson returning.

Spells trouble for opponents. Last year was a breakout year for Atlantic running back Tevin Spells. As a sophomore, he rushed for 646 yards on 110 carries.

Along with Marcus Gaskins (59 carries, 360 yards), the Eagles have two backs who could rush for 800-1,200 yards this season.

Spells is up to 197 pounds (from 175) on his 5-10 frame, which hasn’t been a great thing so far. He’s missed spring time with a tight back due to the extra weight (Gaskins pulled a hamstring in track and has also sat out). His coach wants him closer to 190.

His dedication to training shows he’s a leader, Bean said. A void in leadership was one of Atlantic’s problems last year.

“He’s taken a leadership role,” Bean said. “We’ve got guys like him and other guys who are trying to take that role, say ‘this is my team.’”

Quarterback A.J. Puente has also taken it upon himself to be a leader. It’s his QB job to lose this year. He’s stronger than he was as a sophomore, mentally and physically; Puente had an up-and-down season after transferring from Boca Raton Christian. “He’s more confident, more cerebral,” Bean said.

Looking big on offense. Bean said he wants to get back to where he was his first stint as coach (which ended in 2003), where they averaged 40 points a game. “We don’t want to simplify things, but master [what we have],” he said.
“Once you know the system, I can throw a plethora of things at you.”

Atlantic has a plethora of weapons, including two big targets for Puente.

One player to watch this spring – giant wide receiver Adly Enoicy, a freshman last year. He stands 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds and brings a Kelvin Benjamin-like presence to Atlantic’s attack. He’ll get plenty of receptions.

The Eagles are without Sam Kelley, a junior-to-be tight end with a 6-3, 230-pound frame. Kelley, who hurt his ankle playing hoops this offseason, brings another dimension to the Eagles’ offense.

“He makes us a very good football team,” Bean said. “He’s an athlete. [With Kelley], we can do different things, run the ball, pass the ball.”

Upcoming senior Chad Ward, who has an offer from Bryant and interest from FAU, and Ian Allen will stretch the field.

The ofensive line returns a strong group and gets a boost with a veteran coach, former Olympic Heights assistant Bob Leibowitz.

Tough road ahead. Atlantic’s new district, 13-8A, includes Dwyer, Lake Worth and West Boca. That’s going to be a dogfight, but the two playoff-bound programs can’t rest for a minute, as teams such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Ely and Boyd Anderson await in the regionals.

“If you can get past that, they should give you national title, undisputed,” Bean said.

College coaches, players visiting. Lots of colleges have visited Atlantic to look at the young talent, including Vanderbilt, South Carolina, North Carolina, FAU, Miami, Western Kentucky, USF and Virginia Tech.

The Eagles also have seen former players come in for spring practices. Minnesota’s Donnell Kirkwood, Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley and Mark Leal, NFL receiver Preston Parker and recent signees Estime and Maddy, among many others, have been around to help.