NEW SMYRNA BEACH - Back in the late 70s and into the 1980s, there was a sign when you entered this seaside community that proclaimed it to be the "World's Safest Beach".
While water sports have always been a calling card for this community because of the waves and the tremendous year-round weather, another sport also took center stage. Football and the New Smyrna High Barracudas.
While the welcome sign talked about the safe beaches, football was also on the mind of the "movers and shakers" within the community. Right next to that sign in BOLD letters was a photo of a football player catching a ball, and it put into perspective the way the community felt about one of its own. "THE HOME OF WES CHANDLER".
If you happen to be a NSB fan, you'll remember Chandler as the record-setting receiver who competed for this school. If you followed the Florida Gators, you were well aware of his impact for that program. And, if you were and NFL fan, you remember what Chandler did for the New Orleans Saints and the San Diego Chargers.
Receivers have long been recognized at this school. Dallas Baker (Florida) was the most recent standout pass catcher who brought positive publicity.
This coming year, there is a new attitude at this school. Howie Decristofaro comes in from Bradenton Manatee with knowledge of the area (he lived and coached in DeLand) and a work ethic that is second to none. Decristofaro also knows, from his time as a Graduate Assistant at the University of Miami, how to throw the ball around a bit.
On my recent trip to the area for a 7-on-7 event with Port Orange Spruce Creek, I was met with some impressive surprises. While I was well aware of players such as linebacker Joseph McCauley and receiver Latarrius Thomas, there were some others simply caught me by surprise.
"If people are only going to worry about what Latarrius is doing, they may be quite surprised at some of the other receivers we have in the mix," said Decristofaro. "We have had two other receivers and a quality pass-catching running back who have stepped up this summer."
With Thomas getting most of the college offers so far, Decristofaro believes that once the season begins, the names Farren Hankins (6-3, 180), Thomas Bertschi (6-0, 180) and versatile (linebacker, safety, running back, quarterback Lucien Walker (5-11, 210) will impact this program.
As I watched all of them compete, I left quite impressed by what all four players will mean to a program that has a tough schedule, but certainly has shown that it will contend for a district title.
Hankins is quick, gets up for the ball, and despite his lack of football playing experience, is not afraid to mix it up in the middle to get the ball.
Bertschi is one of those players that you may not pay too much attention to, but you can bet that once you see his tremendous hands and extremely impressive pass patterns, you will need to cover him!
Walker is one of those athletes who has speed, power and enough athletic ability to cause defenses some major problems.
"When I got to this school, I found something that had been missing from the other places I have coached," said Decristofaro. "The young men want to be here and they want to work hard to get better."
While winning football and New Smyrna Beach High have often gone hand-in-hand, there were a few years where the Barracudas slipped a few notches. By the looks of this group, championship football is returning!
NEW SMYRNA BEACH: 'Cudas Are Catching On
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