There is no denying the change.
At practice, in the weight room, in the halls … the morale of the Gulf Breeze football team received a shot in the arm last week when it opened District 2-6A play with a win against a rising Milton Panthers program.
“Our kids, they’re proud,” said Chris Nemith, Gulf Breeze coach. “They’ve been through it – the first five weeks our kids went through a pruning process. Our coaches and our kids, they’re excited, but at the same time they’re humble because they know where they came from and what it took to get to where we are.”
Still, the Dolphins (2-4, 1-0) have bigger aspirations than a single win.
“We have to stay grounded,” Nemith said. “Again, we know the accomplishment – at that point it was a great win for us and our program – but we have to stay hungry and understand that we’re not where we want to be.”
With their last test in the rear-view window, the Dolphins now turn their attention to another as the team hits the road to take on undefeated Walton on Friday.
Despite being in a lower classification, the undefeated Braves (5-0, 1-0 in 1-4A) boast former Florida Gators and Tennessee assistant coach Jimmy Ray Stephens as their head coach.
Stephens coached nine years with Steve Spurrier while with the Gators.
“Walton is a school that has a lot of pride,” Nemith said. “Again, they’re your one-school town that has a lot of tradition. Their community, you can tell they rally around and love their high school football.
“They’re well-coached … They’re 5-0 for a reason. They’re a lot like Northview. Don’t look at the classification — they’ve got a team of kids that can play. Our kids understand what they’re walking into. We played them in JV two years ago and it was a dog fight.”
Dog fight or not, one player will definitely miss the action.
Dolphins Quarterback Tyler Phelps is out indefinitely after sustaining a collarbone injury at Milton last week.
Stepping into his role under center is Ricky Alexander, a senior athlete who has done time at the position before as a sophomore, but stepped aside when Phelps burst onto the scene last season.
Since then, Alexander has done whatever the team has asked of him — including moving from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.
“He’s always wanted to be a QB,” Nemith said. “I told the team today ‘Ricky is not our QB by default, he’s our QB because he’s earned it.’
“He earned it because his parents never complained, he never complained — he was just a great teammate and because of that he’s earned his right. My heart breaks for Tyler because he was having such a good start and was really getting into a groove, but at the same time we’re really optimistic about Ricky.
“He’s a very mature young man. He understands that he’s not going to the win the game by himself, he just wants to manage and keep moving toward what we’ve built up to this point. As long as he executes his job and does his job we’ll be OK.”
Want to go?
•WHO: Gulf Breeze Dolphins at Walton Braves.
•WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday.
•WHERE: Walton High School, DeFuniak Springs.
•SKINNY: Gulf Breeze travels to undefeated Walton (5-0, 1-0 in 1-4A) with no shortage of confidence after a marquee victory last week. The Dolphins (2-4, 1-0 in 2-6A) picked up a much-needed win as they stunned the Milton Panthers on the road, winning 48-26.