OKEECHOBEE — Two high school teams who would like to completely forget the last two years will meet tonight in a kickoff classic exhibition game at LaBelle High School.
The Cowboys have won just four games in the past two seasons while Okeechobee has managed to win only three games since 2012.
Okeechobee has high hopes this year thanks to a strong crop of players with experience.
Bubba Fludd, Lamar Williams, Jajuan Cherry, Edrick Neal, Evan Neal, Arthur Woodruff, Fred Bradley, and several others leave the coaching staff with a lot of optimism.
Coach Chris Branham said the team appears to have more depth this year and should be able to score more points on offense. He intends to have a run first offense which should open things up in the passing game.
LaBelle, coached by Chris Siner, competes in 4A-6. Key seniors for the team include quarterback Hugo Vargas, wide receiver Marcellous Mitchell, tight end Luke Storey and offensive linemen like Rosendo Vargas and Cesar Gallegos. LaBelle is a very young squad with only five seniors listed on the roster.
Other players to watch are cornerback Noah Pequeno and running back Tylor Vetten.
Coach Branham said the Brahmans have practiced well this month and have gotten a big boost from the strong leadership from their senior class this year. The starting lineup is almost set but there are still some battles going on at free safety between Deshon Wellington, Malcolm Chambers and Demetrius Clark. Another position up for grabs is the backup quarterback position between Logan Etherton and Kysell Richardson.
Branham said his starters on the offensive line will be Edrick Neal, Evan Neal, Nolan Carpenter, Joseph Benjamin and Andrew Wine. Colton Smith and Fred Bradley will be at tight end. Fludd will start at quarterback. Williams, Cherry, Drayton Billie and Fludd will see time at tailback. Wide receivers include Zeke Matthews, Wyatt Bessenbacher and Jacob Emmick.
Key defensive linemen include Arthur Woodruff, Caleb Smith, Bradley, and many of the offensive linemen. Linebackers include Juan Martinez Jr, Terrance Boswell, Williams, and Alex Garcia. Fludd, Cherry, Emmick, Deshon Wellington, Chambers and Clark are battling for playing time in the defensive secondary. Jarrett Mills will handle both the punting and place kicker positions. Other players to watch include Andravious Stallworth, Jonathon Vega, Justin Drawdy and Royce Arnold.
The team has averaged 82 players at fall camp. Many of the key players are sophomores.
Coach Branham and the staff said they have some tough decisions to make about whom to keep on varsity because there is more depth than usual. In the past two years the team lost 25 players to season ending injury. The coaches also want to make sure the younger players get meaningful playing time.
“We want the kids to buy into the concept of one team and one heart. The kids have responded and we’ve had no attitude problems or selfishness. Each player pushes the other. They understand the harder they work the better the team is,” he added.
Branham said the important part of the exhibition is to gain confidence. He said he wants the players to perform well so they have something to feel good about when the regular season starts next week at Glades Day.
Juanyae Ford will not play tonight as he continues to recuperate from off season surgery.
The kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tonight at LaBelle high school at 4050 E. Cowboy Way. There is a charge for parking and admission.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News