In the early-May heat of the spring practice field, Key West High football coach Johnny Hughes, beneath a wide-brimmed fishing hat, scans his red-helmeted players and brims with optimism.
He sees a team that is bigger and more physical than the 2016 squad that went 7-4 and lost in the first round of the Gold Coast Conference playoffs.
He sees Damien Alvarez, for example, whom Hughes calls a ball hawk. He weighs 196 pound, 32 more than last season when he had four interceptions as a safety. He sees 215-pound linebackers linebackers that used to weigh 170.
“We’re going to be better prepared to avoid injuries,” Hughes said.
More than 70 prospects for the 2017 team greeted Hughes in the first days of practice this week “A lot of bodies, some just learning the game,” said Hughes, who has the team focused on blocking and tackling, which were weaknesses last season.
There will be 19 days of spring practice, and on the 20th, May 24, the Conchs will play an exhibition game at Marathon High.
Key West will have a new quarterback in multifaceted senior-to-be Alvin Howard, who excelled the last three seasons as a defensive back and running back.
“We’ll still run the triple-option offense, but Alvin will also work out of the shotgun,” Hughes said. “We want to pass more and he has a great arm.”
Returning in the backfield will be Kolby Kelleher, a workhorse last season, and the quick Jesse Garcia, who has recovered from a torn ACL that kept him out most of last season.
Also back are linebacker Carson Hughes, the coach’s son and leading tackler in 2016; big defensive lineman A.B. Wynn, who will also be used as a power running back; running back Alonzo Ridgeway, who showed promise last season as a freshman; and dependable kicker Jair Torres.
“We are optimistic,” Hughes said. “Staying healthy will be a big factor.”
The Conchs will play in a new yet-to-be named conference that will have teams from the Gold Coast Conference and the Southeast Conference.