There’s No Turning Back at Alonso


To say that things have been quiet at Alonso the past year-and-a-half would only be a half-truth. Sure, if you’re counting wins and losses and postseason appearances, things are quiet. But as “they” say, things change. Brian Emmanuel is entering his sixth season with the Ravens and probably feels like he’s entering his 26th in terms of the amount of stress that’s been dumped at his feet in recent memory, but he and his staff–and most importantly his team–are more-than-willing as well as more-than-capable of erasing the vast majority of that stress in 2016.

We caught-up with Emmanuel following the Ravens’ practice yesterday, and the coach couldn’t have been happier to talk about some of the young men that he expects to step up and make plays in a major way this season plus dive-in about his feelings about last season and more. Emmanuel and his staff seem to enjoy the process as much as anyone around and their strategy for getting the most with what they have is working for them.

“We cross-train a lot of our kids in the spring and we like them to at least learn another position on the other side of the ball and we’ve found some hidden gems in past years doing that. One guy that has really sparkled (this spring) is DJ King. DJ has played corner for us, and been a versatile player here-and-there, but this season he’s got some major opportunities to get snaps at tailback. He had a really good day and I’m excited to go home and look at the practice film on him. Obie Cruz is obviously another guy. He’s just a kid that keeps working–he’s one of those kids that’s just the spirit and heartbeat of the defense. He’s always got a high-motor/high-energy at practice and in the games. Chris Anderson’s one of those guys that’s a late-bloomer but a stud for somebody at the next level. He’s our starting receiver and is probably going to start at safety in the spring and has had a really solid spring so far.”

Another Raven with potential through-the-roof is DL/TE Cole Watts. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder virtually came from nowhere, but was everywhere and then-some during the Bull in the Ring event last month.


“Cole is a guy–and his brother Kyle is in a similar situation–but to speak on Cole, he’s a guy that’s really, REALLY busted on the scene. Physically–I mean–y’all’s Instagram had him doing the torpedo walk from Bull in the Ring–and I was there live–and couldn’t believe what I was watching. He’s a guy that’s really taken care of that part of it, being in the weight room and training and has taken that aspect seriously. The only thing that he’s got to put together is the football side of it–and he’s doing that this spring. He’s starting to get it and is playing tight end for us and obviously all over the defensive line for us as well. I’m really hoping he’ll grab control of the reigns at the tight end position this season. He’s got a freshman behind him right now.”

A guy like Watts putting together all of the pieces is someone that make a difference on a team–and there’s plenty of guys like him on rosters around the area that have their respective coaches wishing for the same thing from their guys. That’s not an indictment BY ANY MEANS. In fact, it’s the ultimate sign from a coach saying that the sky is the limit. Colleges are desperately seeking players that will be more than just football players–more than just playmakers–and that’s leaders in the locker room and on the practice field when no one is watching. Watt’s rise to being a major factor in what Alonso is doing is commonplace throughout high school programs. He can be an inspiration to others.

“We talk in our coaches’ office all the time about it not being real cool in this day and age to be that leader that’s loud and vocal–someone that’s not afraid to get in a teammates face if he’s not doing it right. You sit back as a coaching staff in the room and you say, [Man, I really wish I guy like Cole could take those steps too about coming on strong and expressing to the kids about getting in the weight room and putting in that work. I don’t know too many guys that would challenge a guy like him if he was to be that teammate.”

Emmanuel knows a thing-or-two about signal-callers. He’s worked with some really good quarterbacks in his day and loves his guys to have the “it” factor as much as he requires their execution of his offense. Although his quarterback is just a member of the Class of 2019, he won the job last season in fact and it’s his team already. The job wasn’t handed to him by any means, and with three years left in Westchase, his coach sounds downright giddy when speaking of his guy under center.


“I can’t say enough about Shaye (Scott)” said Emmanuel. “I’ve been around a lot of quarterbacks–a lot of different types of quarterbacks going all the way back to the days of Jarred Fayson at Hillsborough. I’ve had athletes, I’ve had great QB’s like guys like Brandon Hawkins and (Chris) Oladokun, but Shaye has that–whatever you can’t coach–if you want to call it moxie, if you want to call it cockiness–if you want to call it whatever. I’ll never forget, last year–as a fourteen year-old or whatever he was a freshman, we played Countryside to start in our preseason classic and we were going to start our two’s in the second half. He comes in at halftime and throws a touchdown pass on a pop play right out of the gate.”

Being ready to play is one thing, being a leader is another. One can be coached, the other not-so-much. “The thing I remember the most is, after the game–he’s leading the handshake line across the field. It’s things like that or things like going to the film room on a Saturday morning and he comes and pulls up the chair right next to me so that he can take notes. I think things like that are hard to coach. Some kids either have that or they don’t.”

To say that a coach did a great job after going 4-6 would seem a little disingenuous to some, but make no mistake about it–Emmanuel and his staff moved mountains to get where they were following the offseason circus and the in-season suspensions that essentially cost them a shot at making a run to the postseason. The “circus” surrounding some of their best players leaving for rivals Sickles and subsequent allegations that followed their departure were well-publicized and debated throughout the media (and message board) circles. Although there’s no good reason to re-hash the circus itself, the process of going through it helped Emmanuel and his staff accomplish things they didn’t think they’d accomplish–which is insanely positive when you think about it–and the purpose for sticking it out and seeing the negative become a positive.

“Honestly I think that when you look at a situation like that–and maybe one day when I retire or win the lottery and I’m not muzzled by whoever, I would love for someone to write my side of the story. I think the lessons learned when you go through something like that and you know that you’ve done nothing wrong–I think you get a new perspective on life not to sound too hokey. I know some people look at 4-6 record and say this-this-and-that, but when you start in the summer or fall for whatever reason you have for not having those players, you learn a lot about your team and you learn more about your coaches. You put yourself totally out of your comfort zone. We were running basically a hybrid Wildcat Offense all year that we’ve never had to run and even with all that–with teams stacking the box and not having much of a throwing threat, you still find a way to beat four teams–and NOBODY wants to hear this, BUT your two plays in the fourth quarter against Robinson and Sarasota-Riverview from being 6-4.”

Who knows? Their season could have even ended up 7-3 if not for some misgivings in the week leading up to the game by virtually half the roster it seems. Alonso lost the game 35-21, a district game. Had they won that game, the Ravens would have controlled their postseason destiny. The following week, the Ravens defeated Riverview and with games against Steinbrenner and Sarasota-Riverview remaining, things would have looked entirely different. Emmanuel also joked about the presence of the two-ton elephant that is in the room regarding their district schedule as well.

“In the Palm Harbor (University) game–to the angst of some my assistant coaches–we had fourteen guys suspended for that game, including some of our starters. At first blush, Plant’s finally out of our district and you do a happy dance for about a millisecond because now you’ve got Manatee. We’ve been stuck with Plant for what felt like a decade and we finally get away from them for a minute–and here comes Manatee.

All of that still leads to Alonso’s unfiltered optimism heading into the spring game in which they’ve buried 2015 for good and preparing their taste buds for success. Mainly, because what they felt like the lessons learned the most last season contains one of their strengths heading into 2016.

“It certainly was a challenge last season and other than a few other things so far this spring, you’ve got be excited about what’s going on here. We return three starters along the offensive line–all three are nasty guard-types that like to pull and hit and all that stuff. If we learned anything about winning football games last season–it’s that the old football adage about it starting upfront rings true. I think with our offensive line, I would be surprised if they couldn’t help a young quarterback like ours come-around.”