The school was established a decade ago; the team played its first 10-game varsity season in 2007–yet the Pirates of Braden River High School are making their fifth playoff appearance and are in the midst of a 21-1 run with consecutive undefeated seasons. The program is 54-42 in its “infancy”, but the trend of 21 out of 22 when it took four years to win just 14 games previously would indicate they are in the lefthand lane of I-75 doing 90mph in a 70mph zone en route to the top of the food chain.
It’s been all gumdrops and lollipops, hasn’t it? Nope. Not exactly. Not even close.
Braden River’s rise to power was struck with grief in 2009, but it’s also been a testament to the strength (internally and externally) of its administrators and fans to pull things together and get after it in the name of moving forward as a community. After finishing up an 8-4 season in 2008 and second round appearance in just their second stint playing a 10-game schedule under Josh Hunter, things were on course.
Then in March of 2009–with spring ball just on the horizon, Hunter was arrested for Vehicular Manslaughter that took his best friends’ life. The Pirates were able to construct another 8-4 season in 2009 under Ed Volz and if not for an OT loss to Lake Wales–who knows where they could’ve ended? For the next four seasons, Braden River would go on to compile a record of 14-26–the last two seasons under their current Head Coach, Curt Bradley.
Bradley won just one game his first season in Bradenton, but his second season the Pirates were over .500 at 5-4 and that leads us to the beginning of this magical run they’re currently entrenched in over the past two seasons. The only loss in the last two years coming at the hands of arguably the best team East Lake’s History in 2014.
The Pirates have their perfect captain of the ship it appears, but it almost didn’t happen. While working as the DC at Leesburg in 2011, Bradley was en route to a game with South Sumter and was involved in an accident that sent him and another coach to the hospital and a third coach had to be airlifted.
Bradley’s background brings the necessary tools to build a foundation that seems to be storm-proof. He’s the son of former MLB All-Star Phil Bradley. He’s a former all-conference performer at Wide Receiver from Northern Iowa and has worked under Greg Robinson and Doug Marrone at Syracuse–two of football’s biggest task-makers. His defense improvements to Leesburg were noticeable in his two seasons.
In 2010, the Yellow Jackets were 6-4 and the defense gave up 22 points per game. In 2011, if not for Evans and East Ridge (two of that regions best teams that year) in their district, the Jackets are possibly undefeated. Instead, they finished 8-2–but more importantly the defense gave up only 18 points per game that season. Takeaway those two games and his defense gave up just 12 points per contest.
This season, it’s more than just solid defense–which by the way is giving up just nine points per contest. The Pirates can score points in bunches and have racked up over 3,500 yards of total offense. They can get it done via FIU-Committ Jacob Huesman from the QB position, or they can ground-and-pound with Jaylin Austin or Deshaun Fenwick. Either way is fine with them.
Tomorrow, Braden River attempts to defeat Venice for a second time this season–a task that won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a task that is asking them to do something twice in one season that they couldn’t do the first six seasons they played the Indians. After the trials and tribulations that have shaped the Pirates and their program however, that’s a plank they’re not scared to walk. It’s a situation that seems like they can handle with ease.