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Spring swing ’21: Goal for Nease is to put Panthers back on the football map

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.Spring football is in full swing and the News4Jax sports team is making stops at high schools across the area in its annual Spring Swing tour.

The Nease Panthers are hard at work this spring with one goal in mind, and it’s a big one.

“We are trying to put Nease back on the map,” said Panthers coach Collin Drafts.

For a program that won a state championship in 2005 with Tim Tebow at the helm, and played for two others in 2006-07, it’s a long road back. Last year was a season to forget for the Panthers.

They finished the year with only one win.

Drafts said he feels good about his team being able to turn things around.

“We are tougher than we have ever been before. They love going full gear. They love competing, the energy is high. I feel really good about what we have,” he said.

Drafts is heading into his third season as the Panthers head coach but this is his first full spring season with Nease.

After being in 2019, hired his spring was cut short as he moved to the area. In 2020, there was no spring football because of Covid-19.

“It has been refreshing to be with this group in January, February and March, and then to be able to come out onto the field for spring football and progress through the summer,” he said.

The backbone of the Panthers is their experience. Nease has 35 seniors. Those players will get a shot to see how far they’ve progressed this spring when they visit Palatka on May 20.

If the Panthers end their season with a trip to the playoffs, it will because the team embraced the “hard work and playing together” motto that Drafts talks about.

Nease 2021 schedule

Aug. 27, Nease at Ponte Vedra*

Sept. 3, Creekside at Nease

Sept. 10, Orange Park at Nease

Sept. 17, Nease at Atlantic Coast, 6 p.m.*

Sept. 24, Nease at Yulee

Oct. 1, First Coast at Nease*

Oct. 8, St. Augustine at Nease

Oct. 15, Nease at Fletcher, 6 p.m.*

Oct. 22, OFF

Oct. 29, Nease at Fleming Island, 7:30 p.m.*

Nov. 5, Westside at Nease

* Indicates district game

About the Author:

Jamal St. Cyr is an award-winning sports anchor who joined the News4Jax sports team in 2019.