Standing near midfield at Daytona Beach’s re-furbished Municipal Stadium, Mainland High School linebacker Mike Swillicote and his teammates marveled at the stadium’s new artificial turf surface.
“I can’t wait to get out here and play football on this stuff,” Swillicote said at the turf’s unveiling two weeks, to which his teammates quickly agreed.
Well, guys, now’s your chance.
Mainland will open its 2010 season at 10,000-seat Municipal Stadium Friday night against the visiting West Point Green Wave, who will be making their first out-of-state trip since 1989. The matchup will kickoff “Florida vs. the USA,” an 8-team two-day event that pits some of the best teams from the Sunshine State against some of the best from across the country.
“We were looking for the best of the best to come down here for this event,” said organizer Billy Fleming, “and hopefully, we’ve got the best of the best.”
Enter West Point, which will march into Daytona on the strength of 15 straight wins and an impressive 39-14 opening-week win over rival Shannon.
In Florida, though, expect Mainland to be an entirely different animal from Shannon.
“They’ve got athletes, no doubt about that,” said West Point head coach Chris Chambless, who attended the event’s press conference in Daytona along with Mainland coach John Maronto two weeks ago. “They’ve got great athletes and they’re well-coached. It will be quite a challenge.”
Mainland, a Fla. 6A school with an enrollment of over 3,000, routinely competes for championships in Florida’s largest classification. In 2009, the Bucs were 9-3 and lost to eventual state champion Deland in the state playoffs.
While Chambless expects a challenge, so does Maronto.
“From what I’ve seen on film, they are big, physical, tough, fast – Any word you can use to describe a good football team, they’ve got it,” Maronto said of West Point. “We are honored to have them coming down here and we look forward to playing this game.”
On the field, Mainland at times looks like a mirror image of West Point, despite running a drastically-different offense. The Bucs have size and speed to burn, only they utilize their strengths in a passing-oriented spread attack, as opposed to West Point’s ground game, which chewed up 231 yards in the season opener.
Running that spread offense for Mainland will be Shelton Willis, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound QB that transferred into Mainland from Class 1B Warner this Summer. Willis is tall and rangy, and led Warner to back-to-back state title game appearances.
While Willis will call the shots, Mainland’s main offensive threat won’t be available Friday night.
Marlin Lane, a 6-2, 210-pound tailback that’s listed as one of the top 50 seniors in the nation by ESPN and Scout.com, is still recovering from a knee injury suffered last year, and the Clemson-bound running back will not play during the first month of the season for Mainland.
Further, Lane’s primary backup from a year ago transferred, leaving Mainland with sophomore tailback Kelvin Lee to should the load. Lee will be seeing his first real test in varsity action Friday night.
On the outside, Cortez Davis, another top prospect that’s headed to Clemson, will give Willis a big target on the outside. At 6-4, 200, Davis is a force for Mainland both offensively and defensively, and he will likely play safety in college.
For Mainland’s players, Friday night will be the first game of the season. It will also come against a team unfamiliar to the Bucs, although Swillicote believes that Mainland will be just fine.
“We watched West Point on film during the Summer,” Swillicote said. “They are big and they can run the ball, but they can’t match up with our speed. I think we can handle them.”