By:   J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola

Given the nature of spring football jamborees, it is sometimes difficult to determine what is and what is not true.  First jamborees are often played under modified rules, special teams are non-existent and scores are not kept.

But when St. Cloud closed out its spring practice on Thursday night by hosting a five-team jamboree at Tom Gannarelli Field that included Celebration High School, two things were fairly apparent – St. Cloud has an opportunity to be a really explosive offense this year and new Storm coach Chris Blanton has breathed new life and excitement into long dormant Celebration program.

The first observation should not come as a huge surprise.  

St. Cloud dressed a veteran team that included 20 rising seniors for the jamboree – led by quarterback Logan King, running back TJ Griffin and explosive wide receiver Alex Springs.  

King is a four-year starter who gives St. Cloud essentially another coach on the field.   In Thursday’s jamboree, he completed 12 of 26 for 246 yards and six touchdowns.   Springs was on the receiving end of seven of those passes – scoring touchdowns on grabs of 40, 20, 21, and 10 yards.  Griffin picked up 45 yards on just seven carries in the game.

“We have a lot of seniors and they know it’s their time,” Coach Mike Short said of his team that has won 15 games in the last two seasons.  “They delivered tonight, but I have to be honest that I was also surprised and pleased with the effort of some of our younger players.  They got a chance to get a lot of reps tonight and quite a few of them made some big plays.”

Rising juniors Cameron Dalton and Gunner Freeman, as well as current 9th grader Michael Culver were three of those young players that Short spoke was referring to.  Dalton rushed for 69 yards on just four carries and scored on a 40 yard run; while Culver also busted off a 40-yard TD run. Freeman added a 39-yard touchdown reception to go with the exploits of King and Springs.

Although a rising senior, star basketball player Josiah Cotto caught Short’s eye despite playing football this spring for the first time at the high school level.  He also had a touchdown reception.  “He’s a raw player with no experience, but he’s tall, extremely gifted and has shown signs of being an explosive receiver,” Short said.  “When he is opposite of Alex, I can definitely see where he could create matchup concerns for our opponent.”

About the only question mark on offense was the fact that King took four sacks in the jamboree.  “It’s not a major concern because of the format (each team played the other four teams for one quarter each) of the jamboree,” Short added.  “Several teams were bringing crazy blitzes and when you’re playing four different teams in essentially four mini games, it’s impossible to prepare for things like that.”

Given the fact that Celebration has been non-competitive on the field for the last two years, new head coach Chris Blanton could not have been more pleased with the results of his first spring at Celebration.  

Blanton was not hired until late February when his predecessor was released from his contract because of alleged recruiting violations.  Blanton only had time to hire three assistants for the spring and is taking over a program that has won just two games in two years and was shutout seven times last year.  On top of that, program morale was not great as the team has had just a couple of winning seasons in its 20-year history.

Despite the obstacles, Celebration held its own in the jamboree that also included Viera, Freedom and University High.   The Storm scored at least one touchdown against all four opponents it faced and it could be argued they were the better team in two of those quarters.

Offensive veteran Landon Yaw and freshman Wise-Pauly split time at quarterback.  Both players had their moments but Blanton said it was still a wide-open competition that would be determined in fall camp.  Notable performances came from the two quarterbacks, some hard running by Phillipe Costa (70 yards, two scores), WR Sean Nuzzi (1 TD receiving) and safety Xavier Davis, who had two interceptions on the night. 

“When I took this job, I knew we had a ton of work to do when we got here and we are nowhere near a finished product,” Blanton said. “The thing that is most encouraging is these players want to be here, they want to work and they want to succeed.  It’s going to take time but our players, coaches, administration, parents and fans are behind us and we are all pulling in the same direction.  We are going to build this thing brick by brick.”

Both Celebration and St. Cloud will find themselves in new districts this year.  Celebration will play in 7A with perennial state power Dr. Phillips, Olympia and East Ridge.  St. Cloud is now in 6A with Osceola, Melbourne and Viera.