VIDEO: Florida Tech Geared Up, Ready To Kick Off 2016 Season Saturday Against Newberry
By Zach Clark, Space Coast Daily // September 2, 2016
At Newberry on Saturday at 6 p.m.
ABOVE VIDEO: Florida Tech Head Coach Steve Englehart after practice Thursday.
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Florida Tech wrapped up their final preparations Thursday morning as the Panthers conducted a one-hour walk-thru before the opening game of the regular season at Newberry on Saturday night.
Heading into the football program’s fourth year of existence, expectations are thriving for a team that finished 7-4 last season and 5-2 in conference.
Head Coach Steve Englehart realizes expectations are growing for this year’s team and his expectations for the team couldn’t be higher.
“Our expectations are to win every game. You play the game to win it. More importantly, we talk about doing it the right way,” said Englehart.
“If we practice the right way, create those habits during the course of the week and in our preparation, the wins will take care of themselves.”
Florida Tech has a lot key playmakers returning from last year’s squad, led by returning two-year starter and junior Quarterback Mark Cato.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound dynamic signal caller will look to build upon from last year’s solid numbers that included 26 total touchdowns and over 2,300 all-purpose yards.
Despite an early injury last season, his resiliency and mental toughness helped propel the Panthers from a 1-3 start last season, to rattling off seven straight wins before falling to Valdosta State in the final game.
Turnovers and accuracy are areas he would like to improve upon from last year, Cato committed 11 interceptions with a 59% completion percentage in his sophomore year.
ABOVE VIDEO: Florida Tech QB Mark Cato after practice Thursday.
Cato’s leadership is evident by his decision to stay on-campus over the summer and conducting 7-on-7 drills with some his teammates to build upon team chemistry.
The offense returns a loaded backfield that combined for over 1,500 rushing yards last season. Running backs Trevor Sand, Gary Holmes and Antwuan Haynes return from last year’s team that finished second in the Gulf South Conference in total offense.
The running back-by-committee trio gives Coach Englehart a good problem to have as he welcomes the competition between his guys. So how will the carries be dished out this season?
“Hot hand will get the ball and that’s how we have always been. Obviously, with Trevor (Sand), he’s Mr. Steady. You know what you get with Trevor. Antwuan (Haynes), he’s a big playmaker. But a guy who has faced injuries, never been full strength and has battled a lot of adversity is Gary Holmes. He’s as good as any of them. Those three guys will get the bulk of the carries,” said Englehart.
Defensively, the Panthers have a lot of key returning pieces, led by senior linebacker Chris Stapleton and senior defensive back Manny Abad.
Stapleton, the Navarre native, was the team’s leading tackler last season with a total of 89 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 1 interception in all 11 games.
ABOVE VIDEO: Florida Tech Defensive Back Manny Abad after practice. Abad, the Fort Lauderdale native, played in all 11 games last season and totaled 39 tackles, 10 pass breakups and 1 interception.
Abad, the Fort Lauderdale native, began his career on the ground floor of the football program’s beginning and it has become surreal for the South Plantation High School grad seeing the transformation at Florida Tech in a short amount of time.
“It’s amazing to see how far the program has come in such little time. I look at these young guys and they don’t know what we went through (from the beginning). We (seniors) were here before the training center was built,” said Abad.
“It was a struggle at first, but you embrace it and the process means more to you when you are a senior and learn to not take things for granted. This is what we work hard for and you put more value into everything.”
Florida Tech travels up to South Carolina Friday for their matchup against Newberry on Saturday at 6 p.m.
FIT is 0-2 in the series against Newberry and looks to redeem themselves from last year’s field goal loss.
The Panthers return next week for their home-opener next Saturday against Mississippi College at 7 p.m. from Florida Tech Panther Stadium in Melbourne.
Tickets can be purchased at FloridaTechSports.com, in-person by appointment at the Clemente Center Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by calling the FIT Ticket Office at 321-674-6228.
ABOVE VIDEO: Florida Tech Offensive Lineman Kevin Delgado after practice Thursday.