Smith, Hooks Jr. weigh in on importance of spring football


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Viera High School's C.J. Simms could have used spring practice to get a jump start on his transition to become the Hawks' starting quarterback.

Carl Kotala

From building relationships to showcasing how much a player has grown physically since the end of the previous season, spring football is a vital part of any high school program.

And for teams like the Viera Hawks and the Holy Trinity Tigers, spring football would have been incredibly essential — perhaps more than any in their recent past — toward building the team that we will see in the fall.

Well, that’s not going to happen now.

The FHSAA announced on April 20 that it was canceling all spring sports activities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was extremely important for us this spring because of wanting to get reps with these new guys, and with the new guys getting camaraderie,” said Holy Trinity coach Nate Hooks Jr., who has two new quarterbacks and a star wide receiver coming back from an injury that he was hoping to get on the field with.

“Just having those guys be around each other in competitive situations and the social situations, just being around each other in the locker room. It was going to be quite valuable.”

While Viera quarterback C.J. Simms made several starts for the Hawks last season, this spring would have been the sophomore’s chance to really take on a leadership role before heading into the fall as the team’s unquestioned starter.

It also would have been a chance for Viera players to show how much their bodies have changed since last season ended, which could ultimately attract the attention of college scouts.

“Spring football is the most important time for a current junior,” Viera coach Derek Smith said. “It’s a chance for current juniors to showcase how much their bodies have changed, how much stronger they’ve gotten between their junior fall season to now, going into their senior season.”

Smith cited former Viera offensive lineman Gavin Lamp as an example of a player who got much bigger and stronger between his junior and senior seasons and eventually wound up getting a Division I scholarship to play at Richmond.

“Brady Touzet is a good example of that (now),” Smith said of his offensive guard. “He’s 25 pounds heavier than he was in the fall (now at 290 pounds) and he’s 50 pounds heavier on his bench (press).

“Jackson Hatfield is 25 pounds heavier (at 280 pounds) and 50 pounds heavier on his bench. Those two guys … they’re going to maul people. But they’re not going to be able to showcase it now until the fall.”

The Viera coach also mentioned linebacker Austin Smith, who played at 6-foot, 130 pounds as a sophomore. Austin is now close to 6-3 and weighs 180 pounds. He could be closer to 200 pounds by the fall.

And if that weren’t all enough, the Hawks also have three new coaches, who would have had a chance to work with their players for the first time in a practice setting. Christian Fuller is the new defensive backs coach. Dylan Reda is the team’s new inside linebacker coach and Kerron Greaves has joined the team as the new running backs coach.

“I’m really going to have to spend a very organized summer with our guys to make up for (missing spring practice),” Smith said.

Hooks also is eager to find a way to get his two new quarterbacks —  transfers Davin Wydner, a 6-4, 220-pound sophomore and Jonathan Bowden, a 6-3, 180-pound junior — a chance to work with receivers Ja’Lon Hudgins, Carlos Estronza and James BlackStrain, who holds more than 40 college scholarship offers and is coming back from a knee injury.

“Two or three of them have been meeting up and running routes together and throwing at different places, anywhere they can find grass,” Hooks said. “I told them just stay active. Don’t lose too much.”

As for how much the cancellation of spring practice bothers him, Hooks chose to look forward.

“The situation doesn’t bother me because it’s necessary under the conditions and everyone is in the same situation,” the Tigers coach said. “It’s not like Holy Trinity guys aren’t the only ones who can’t lift or practice. It’s everyone in the country, including the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I’m excited about what’s going to happen this fall.”