PANAMA CITY, FL (WJHJ/WECP) The Keith Bland era at Bay is officially under way. The coach leading some 30 players on to the practice field Monday for the first day of spring practice.
Spring means twenty days of practice getting with this first week in just shorts and helmets for a couple of days, and then into shells later in the week.
Next week the full pads come on and full contact can take place.
Coach Bland coming east from Arnold where he was a principal the previous decade.
For Bland it's his second go-round as a head coach, the first being at what was then Apalachicola High School, back the early two thousands.
No doubt about it, Bay's a rebuilding project. The school was facing dwindling numbers and posting losing seasons and then came Hurricane Michael, which complicates things considerably. Still coach Bland happy to be on the field today with about 30 players!
"Man it's great." coach Bland told me just before practice began. "It's like a homecoming of sorts for me. I played here and coached here for ten years, so it's great to be back. There's so many things to accomplish. The first thing is to get with the kids and start building relationships with them. And that's what we've been doing. Working hard in the weight room. But today is the day when we get back on the field and start working on football stuff."
The coach knows he has a serious rebuilding project on his hands. Not only was Bay hit hard by the storm, and suffered losses to the student population. But the program was already struggling with numbers, and is coming off one losing season after another.
"It's hard for me to do a comparison with the past, but when we started the weightlifting class about eight weeks ago we had 14 kids." Bland says. "We're up to 30. You see we have some numbers out here today. Not sure about the experience level, which is very minimal for most of them. I think we have one returning starter on offense and defense. And either they were seniors, or the hurricane, they moved away. So really, essentially it's like starting from scratch with a new program. Because mostly we'll have 9th and 10th graders and a handful of seniors that stayed through the storm."
Coach tells us they will wrap spring as part of a four team jamboree at Graceville next month. Before that he intends to host a Red and White scrimmage and let the players and student body as a whole use that to celebrate Homecoming which was cancelled last fall because of the hurricane.