Land O’Lakes’ Justin Kren knows that last year–or even the past two years–have not been enough in terms of his teams’ production in terms of wins and losses. The Gators finished 2015 with a 3-7 record after posting an 0-4 record at home–something that should never happen to one of Pasco County’s oldest programs. “The Swamp” hasn’t been much of a hazard at all the past couple seasons, and their neighbors to the south at Sunlake and their neighbors to the west at River Ridge have stolen their thunder.
Quite frankly, Kren (5-11/160) and his teammates have had enough of that–and they’re back at it in the offseason to ensure that 2015 is merely a distant memory once spring ball commences. “We’re losing some big players,” said Kren. “But there’s enough on this roster that can step up and I feel like they will and we’re going to have a big turnaround this season.”
The opinion that Land O’Lakes cannot hang with their arch-rivals at Sunlake is starting to wear-thin on their patience, and when Kren responds to the question about hearing it nonstop the last two seasons, his voice definitely takes the tone of acceptance–but with much frustration and a poignant sense of what needs to be done in order to stop the talking. Although he stops well short of giving bulletin-board material, he makes no bones about what their intended goal is for this season. “Yeah, you’re right–and the last two years weren’t even close but, we’re going to be different. It’s going to be a tight game this year.”
It’s a lot easier said than done, however. So when pressed a little further about his reasons for feeling so confident this time around, Kren isn’t shy. In fact, his response was almost given before the question could be posed.
“Leadership. You can definitely see the leadership this offseason–a lot of people are really stepping up to the plate that need to.”
The Gators had a bit of a scheduling anomaly when they took on some out-of-district games causing them to have an unbalanced home and away schedule. As a result, Land O’Lakes was on the road for five consecutive weeks playing a home game against River Ridge on September 4th and not returning home until October 23rd in which they dropped a heartbreaker to Pasco in the district. That type of grind took a toll on the Gators and they know they’ll have an opportunity this season with six home games to make up for the showing they gave their fans when they finally returned to The Swamp. “Last year we had four or five away games in a row, and that was hard. It was rough, because when we finally did come back home to play, the people that really wanted to sit in the stands and watch us didn’t have much to see and it was a disappointment.”
It’s not about the numbers–but it IS about the numbers. Kren totaled 62 tackles–36 solo–with seven tackles for loss during his sophomore season. He followed that fantastic output with even better numbers in 2015 with 79 tackles–51 solo–but added five interceptions, four passes defensed, three fumble recoveries, a caused fumble and a blocked field goal. Although we always try to say it’s not about the numbers necessarily–it’s all about THESE numbers continuing if the Gators want to get right on the defensive side. But Kren feels as though the numbers reflect the true impact. As in they don’t tell the whole story.
“Right, exactly. Mostly–stepping up when it matters. We run a weird defense and how it works is if one guy messes up, the whole play just falls apart so the solo tackles are CRUCIAL to our game plan. It’s not always about that big fourth down–it’s more like the second down and eight and you tackle them at the line of scrimmage that makes even more of a difference. You really don’t see on paper things such as pass deflections–good coverage down the field when you needed it and stuff like that–you’ve just got to be there for your team and expect them to be there for you in return.”
Kren knows where he’s most comfortable even though he’s produced some numbers on the offensive side of the ball–something he says he’s readily available to do if need be in order to help the team, but knows that his home at the next level is most likely at the safety position and he’s working on making that dream a reality with his offseason regimen thus far.
“I’ve been doing some 7-on-7 things this offseason–I’m trying to get better at my coverage and my open space–getting better at playing against people that are faster and even a little stronger than me. I think I feel most comfortable at the safety position. I can see the field more and be all over the field more.”