ST. JOHNS, 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.
One group graduates and the next one rises up to take their place.
Bartram Trail football coach Darrell Sutherland said that every year at the Bears’ season-ending banquet, he’ll scan the tables of outgoing seniors and think just how he’s going to replace them.
The Bears have a pretty good pattern, though.
The older players mentor the younger ones and the Bears are always left in a good spot. Sutherland said that’s just part of the cycle within the program, and the players take pride in leaving the program better than they found it. Coaches enjoy that system because the players are the ones who own it.
As the Bears march toward 2021, they will have some big roles for young players to fill after losing some of their top playmakers. But that’s a rite of passage at the school. Stars and impact players graduate and younger players step in to fill those voids.
“That’s the thing, it’s such a blessing to be in a big school like this that’s got such a great group of guys. Yeah, we graduate really good, young men every year,’” Sutherland said.
“But then you look at the group that’s getting ready to come up next and you think, ‘we’re going to be OK.’ And the nice thing is that the older guys really mentor the younger guys, and so they take very seriously the legacy that they want to leave.”
The Bears have been through that cycle constantly and always wind up better than OK. Bartram, which opened in 2000 with Sutherland as its coach, has reached the state playoffs in 17 of the 20 seasons that it has been eligible for the postseason. Last year, Bartram finished 10-2 and reached the third round of the state playoffs.
Sutherland said even before he got his players on the field this spring he knew this was going to be a “special group” of players.
A player to keep an eye on for the Bears is playmaker Eric Weatherly. He has been one of the top big-play threats in the area over the past few years. Weatherly had 1,441 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns as a junior.
“I’ve been blessed with tremendous playmakers and this groups no different,” Sutherland said. “We bring back a lot of guys who were tremendous playmakers last year. They make it where it doesn’t matter what play I call they’re going to go out there and execute and do something great with it. It makes it pretty fun.”
Bartram Trail 2021 football schedule
Aug. 27, Bartram Trail at Ware County
Sept. 3, Miami Columbus at Bartram Trail
Sept. 10, Tallahassee Lincoln at Bartram Trail
Sept. 17, Bartram Trail at Mandarin*
Sept. 24, Bartram Trail at St. Augustine
Oct. 1, OFF
Oct. 8, Bartram Trail at Ponte Vedra
Oct. 15, Creekside at Bartram Trail*
Oct. 22, Bartram Trail at Oakleaf*
Oct. 29, Sandalwood at Bartram Trail*
Nov. 5, Gainesville Buchholz at Bartram Trail
* indicates district game