On Saturday afternoon in New Haven, Conn., in the 11th week of regular-season action, a pair of Division II football rivals clashed at the 6,000-seat Jess Dow Field.
The visiting Pace Setters, who came in 0-10, carried the burden of a 39-game losing skein dating back to the second week of the 2011 season against the 1-9 Southern Connecticut University Owls. Pace ended up defeating Southern Connecticut, 10-7.
As he had all season, former Springstead signal caller Brian Beeker alternated under center calling cadence, or lined up as a wideout.
The 5-foot-9, 193-pound Beeker has bulked up from his playing days in Spring Hill.
As a senior at the Mariner Boulevard campus, Beeker rolled up almost 2,000 yards (1,975) of offense in a stellar 2010 campaign under Bill Vonada.
Running the complicated veer option, Beeker rushed for a career-best 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns – just behind NCT’s Ike Bailey’s 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns for the county rushing title – to complement his county-leading 736 passing yards and eight touchdown passes against three interceptions.
Beeker, a 2010 All-County football selection, signed with New York City-based Pace, and has transitioned into more of a pocket passer.
Across four seasons, Beeker was not the option threat he was at SHS collecting a total 196 net yards and two touchdowns. Through the air, however, he clicked on 174-of-347 passes for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdown passes.
When the Setters utilized him at receiver, he also delivered with 28 career receptions for 282 yards.
But like all competitors, Beeker simply wanted to go out a winner Saturday with a victory over the Owls. Pace’s 1-40 mark during his career coming in upset him to no end.
“This year I started out as a starter at quarterback and threw three touchdown passes, but I didn’t have a great game in Week 2 and we started alternating,” he recalled. “If it helps the team for me to play at a different position, that’s fine.”
As one of the Setters’ team captains, Beeker is focused solely on giving his best.
“Hopefully, we get a win and I end my senior year with a victory,” he said. “Honestly, it’s been a struggle here. It might not show on the scoreboard, but you can tell with the new coaching staff that this (team) is headed in a good direction. Even the new football facilities will be ready next year.”
A lack of leadership was cited as the key detriment.
“When I got here, we had 56 freshmen in my class,” recalled Beeker. “We have 10 seniors on this year’s team and I’m one of only five kids who have stuck it out all four years. It’s been a constant rotation. Every year a lot of kids who started here left for this reason or that.
“Because of that, there’s not enough leadership,” pointed out Beeker. “It’s like we’ve been a young team every season.”
On impact of the dubious 39-game losing streak, “It’s been hard on all of us,” he said. “Mentally, it’s real tough and then after the game you’ve got to hear it from the fans and kids in school, too.”
Looking on the bright side, “This experience will make us all better people,” insisted the 21-year-old Beeker. “It’s about dealing with adversity, something we’ll have to deal with every day in life. But as a player, losing sucks.”
Beeker believes he’s grown the most as a pocket passer with his film study.
At Springstead he remembers watching film, but at Pace he studies film looking for his opponent’s tendencies and reading coverages.
In his transition from runner to passer, “I bulked up for college and as a result, I lost some speed,” he says. “But passing-wise, I’ve gotten much better. I’ve become a better player mentally. I’ve learned what the defenses are trying to do.”
On his reliance on his offensive line, “I wish I was here a little longer,” Beeker said.
“They’re just starting to click as a group. Our right guard has been here four years and that’s helped a lot. Our right tackle was a former nose guard and has done a great job.”
Regardless of Saturday’s outcome between the lines in Connecticut, Beeker could be considered a bigger winner in the game of life.
In the classroom, Beeker has also elevated his game carrying a 3.0 grade point average, and will graduate on time next summer with a degree in criminal justice.
“My grades are very important,” insisted Beeker, who aspires to follow his father’s path as a police officer in Miami. “My family has a lot of police and military background. I’d love to go one level past anyone in my family.”
Beeker dreams of eventually becoming an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or Drug Enforcement Administration.
“I didn’t have the best grades in Springstead, but I’ve realized just how important they are,” he said. “If I don’t become a federal agent, I may come home and join the police academy.”
On what he would say to any prospective Hernando County student/athlete, “I’d tell them to take your school work as important as they do playing football, “ he insisted. “Pay attention to your studies. If you do, it’ll help any student have a broader choice for college. If you can balance your studies and sports, you’ll have a better future.”
Brooksville’s Megan Renee Lane officially signed a national letter of intent Friday to play Division I softball next year with the Mercer University Bears in Macon, Ga.
The multi-sport Lane is currently in her third season of weightlifting under Casey Ellis. Though she did not compete last winter, she won the county title at 139 pounds in 2013.
Hernando senior catcher Megan Lane, flanked by her parents Tracy and Scott Lane, signed to play softball at Division I Mercer University on Friday. Back row, from left: Hernando girls weightlifting and assistant softball coach Casey Ellis and head softball coach Kevin Bittinger. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
After weightlifting, she’ll wind up her fourth fast-pitch softball season with the Lady Leopards under skipper Kevin Bittinger.
Bittinger described Lane in glowing terms.
“Other than (Kenzi) Maguire (at River Ridge), I don’t know anyone as explosive in the North Suncoast as Megan,” Bittinger said. “To maintain her batting average with coaches trying to stop her was remarkable.
“With everything she’s done, she still works hard on her game. Her natural instincts are out of this world.”
Without playing in one game as a senior, Lane’s resume is extensive. In 85 career games, she arrives as the school’s all-time leading hitter after 25 seasons, carrying a .473 average.
Lane, who batted right-handed until switching completely to a left-handed slap hitter in 2014, has 139 career hits.
She’s tied the school record with Chrissy Hartley for most career runs scored (113) and leads in career stolen bases (156).
Defensively behind the dish, she converted 207-of-209 chances (.990) and threw out 9-of-13 enemy base runners attempting to steal last season.
The three-time All-County selection was born and raised in Brooksville by her parents: Scott and Tracy Lane.
After de-committing to the University of Central Florida, the 17-year-old Lane boiled down her final choices for college softball to Troy University and Mercer.
Lane’s visits to both schools ultimately sealed the deal.
“At Troy, I felt like I was just another recruit on a visit,” candidly recalled Lane. “But at Mercer, they made me feel like I was welcomed. After talking to the coaches, the players made me feel like I was already a part of the team.”
In describing herself, Lane said, “I’m an athlete. I think I do pretty well because of the genes I received from my parents, especially my speed – that’s valuable in any sport.”
Mercer hasn’t penciled in Lane into any one position.
“They’ve told me they’d like me to play middle infield, but really I will play anywhere they want me to go,” she said.
On leaving Hernando County, “My parents told me once I go up there I can’t come home until next Thanksgiving,” said Lane. “They want me to get used to my new surroundings.”
Lane believes she’s elevated her game, particularly at the plate, saying, “After hitting right-handed as a freshman and sophomore, switching to the left side has helped me out tremendously. As a hitter, it gives me a lot more options to slap or bunt or hit away. That freedom helps me get on base.”
Her biggest concern entering her senior campaign is improving her arm speed.
“There’s always something I can improve on,” pointed out Lane.
Before relocating to Macon, Lane would like to improve on her ACT score and her current (3.6 unweighted) grade point average.
She plans to study business management.
“I’m going to miss my friends, but everyone needs to get out of Brooksville to see what’s out there,” explained Lane. “Eventually, I’ll move back.”
Besides putting in practice time in the weight room and on the diamond, Lane earns some spending cash by giving private softball lessons.
When she’s not playing sports or giving lessons, you can spot her on the beach hanging with her friends.
On what signing with Mercer ultimately means, “This validates what I’ve done so far. It feels like everyone expects me to do well,” she replied. “Before I go I’d love to extend the stolen base record and hit for a higher average. I’d love to hit some homers this year, too. I didn’t hit one last year.”
By the numbers: Hernando High’s Megan Lane (2012-14)
In dire need of a girls soccer head coach following last week’s resignation of Scott Wern, Springstead filled the void without leaving the school system.
Last Wednesday, Challenger K-8 music and chorus teacher Richard Gomez took over the Lady Eagles, guiding them in Friday’s critical 4-3 victory over Class 3A, District 7 rival Fivay.
“We’ve had to rely on the leadership of our captains to keep the team together and keep spirits high,” Gomez said. “It’s hard to lose a coach but it’s all about the team. We have to stick together and fight our way through.”
Gomez, 40, isn’t a stranger to Hernando County athletics. He was golf coach at Challenger from its inception in 2005 through the 2013 season, leading the Navigators to six county championships.
Meanwhile, he coached JV girls soccer at Springstead in 2007-08, as well as eight years with First Hernando Youth Soccer Club until this year, when he shifted to the West Florida Flames out of Pinellas County.
That was a bit of a homecoming for Gomez, who grew up in Palm Harbor and attended Tarpon Springs High, playing soccer throughout his youth.
Wern stepped down on Nov. 4, citing difficulties dealing with team parents, less than two weeks into his fourth season at the helm.
Upon seeing the vacancy posted, Gomez said he immediately contacted Springstead athletic director Bob Levija.
He is coach on both the varsity and junior varsity levels, with Rashawn Lamar as the only assistant coach remaining.
“I’ve got to give credit to Scott Wern, he brought quality trainers in here,” said Gomez, referring to Lamar and former assistant David Hayes, who Gomez worked with at First Hernando.
“Most definitely the expectation is to win, but the process is what’s important. Practice and training is everything. How we practice and train is how we’ll execute in games. That’s why it was so important to keep Rashawn Lamar on.”
The Lady Eagles are far from a downtrodden program. With Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Crystal River, they improved to 6-0-1.
Gomez wants to help them fulfill their promise this season and continue with them going forward.
“I think we can accomplish anything as long as we work hard and practice hard,” Gomez said. “If they’ll have me, I’d love to do it (long-term). It’s an honor to coach high school soccer, varsity or JV.
“As a soccer player, I know how important it is to the girls. We’re trying to prepare these girls to play college soccer. It’s my responsibility to make sure they have the best opportunity to play college soccer.”
His accomplishments stack up among the greatest athletes produced by Hernando County. Yet the memories of John Capel seem more about missteps than medals.
He’s no longer one of the fastest men walking the Earth. Those days are well behind him.
Hernando graduate and former Florida Gator John Capel instructs players in his youth football league, Tru Elite Athletes and Mentors Inc., during a practice Tuesday at Fox Chapel Middle School. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
He can still run. Just not from his past. Not from the marijuana use that curtailed his NFL career before it began, or the failed drug tests that derailed his Olympic dreams.
Over the past two years, the county’s only Olympian has stayed busy operating and coaching in Tru Elite Athletes and Mentors Inc., a youth league thus far specializing in the sports for which Capel was once renowned: football and track and field.
“I’m glad about all the things I went through, because now I can impart that on my sons and my daughter, and the kids in my league,” said Capel, now a 35-year-old father of four. “These are the things that God let me go through in order to help the people under me.”
Capel will be among eight former coaches and athletes honored Friday as new inductees into the Hernando High Sports Hall of Fame during the Leopards’ home football game against South Sumter.
He’ll return to Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium, where he starred on both the field and the surrounding track prior to his graduation in 1998.
“It’s an honor,” Capel said. “Anytime somebody says ‘Thank you’ for athletic achievements and gives you some type of recognition, it’s always an honor.”
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Aside from fellow Leopard alums Jerome Brown, a two-time NFL All-Pro selection, and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Bronson Arroyo, Capel’s credentials are tough to top around these parts.
He’s one of only three county male athletes to ever win multiple track state championships in the same season, as he did in 1997 in Class 4A in the 100 meters (in a time of 10.49) and 200 meters (21.01). That same year he won both races at the National Scholastic Championship.
Meanwhile, he became one of the nation’s top prep wide receivers and a Parade All-American.
As a senior, also spending time at running back, he averaged 9.1 yards per carry while accumulating 1,229 yards and 12 touchdowns. That went along with 28 catches for 434 yards and three more scores.
That earned him a scholarship from the University of Florida and a spot in Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ’n’ Gun” offense.
He only played two seasons with the Gators, seeing action in every game though only totaling a combined 11 catches for 88 yards and 20 rushes for 143 yards and a touchdown, while returning 19 kickoffs for a 21.8-yard average and 10 punts averaging 7.4-yards.
The 2000 Olympics cut short his collegiate career on the gridiron, and for good reason. He was already the NCAA Outdoor champion in the 200 from the previous year with a 19.87.
Then he captured the 200 at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials in 19.85, and followed up with an eighth-place 20.49 at the Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Forgoing his senior year at UF, Capel entered the NFL Draft in 2001 and was taken in the seventh round (208th overall) by the Chicago Bears, despite testing positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine. He was soon arrested and charged with possession of the drug.
The Bears released him in training camp, as did the Kansas City Chiefs in 2002.
On the track, he won the 200 at the 2003 World Championships in 20.30, and was in line to compete on the 4×100-meter relay team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Hours before the race, he was pulled from the lineup after it was learned he tested positive for marijuana at a meet earlier that month. The team, a favorite to win the race, settled for silver.
In 2006 he again failed a drug test, this time getting hit with a two-year suspension. Two years later, he made a comeback attempt but fell short of making the 2008 Olympic squad.
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Capel doesn’t hold back when dealing with the young people he now coaches. Sure, he can bring a level of expertise to the table few can match, but that’s not all he passes along.
“I tell them all about my troubles, too,” Capel said. “I tell them all of that. I tell them don’t be a knucklehead like I was. I had everything, but I decided I wanted to do it my own way.
“My job is to make sure they don’t walk down the same path. I was the fastest human on the planet at the time and I still didn’t make as much out of my life as I could have.”
That’s where his newest endeavor comes into play. Growing weary of the “everybody gets a trophy” mentality he feels has overtaken youth sports, and frustrated with a lack of elite athletes produced by this county, he set out to make a difference.
With an age range of 4-18, Capel estimates his football league has 140 kids combined between players and cheerleaders, practicing out of Fox Chapel Middle School in Spring Hill and Kennedy Park in Brooksville. The track team is capped at 22.
Capel hopes to add more sports, such as baseball and basketball, if he’s able to bring in proper coaching.
“Long-term for the league, I want to end up with 40-50 teams and make it a real exceptional league, where everybody knows who we are and what we’re doing,” Capel said. “With all the talent we have in Hernando County, we don’t have any (football) state championships. That doesn’t seem right.
“I think if we can teach kids the right way, teach them the right things, I think we can grab a couple of championships before it’s all said and done.”
But the program does not stop on the field. Capel went out of his way to thank his wife, Sandy, his high school sweetheart who stood by him throughout the years, for her love and support.
His wife works as a teacher at Brooksville Elementary, and helps out on the educational side of her husband’s program. Players are not only expected to maintain a certain academic level, Capel noted, but must meet behavioral standards.
“We are a family. Everyone who is a part of our league understands that,” Capel said. “It doesn’t help me to teach you how to play football and make you a bad citizen. It’s not just about me coaching. It’s also about making you a better person and a better student.”
Capel, who has also spent nearly seven years working as a monitor technician at Oak Hill Hospital, doesn’t sound like a man with deep regrets. He spoke highly of his athletic career, having enjoyed the chance to travel, thanking God for the opportunity.
But he doesn’t simply want his legacy to be about what has already occurred, the good and the bad. Instead, he’d like to be remembered as someone who left a mark on future generations, and proved it’s not about the mistakes along the way but the lessons gleaned from them.
“It’s not only about rebuilding a legacy to leave behind, but also take all the tarnish off my name, brush it off just a little bit,” Capel said. “So when I do leave this Earth, I’ll leave behind more than a couple of gold medals and watches.
“Everybody makes mistakes. It’s not how many mistakes; it’s how many times you get back up.”
Eight days ago, Springstead’s girls soccer mentor Scott Wern was convinced that the retooled Lady Eagles were headed to their county-record 12th playoff berth.
The reason for the enthusiasm was the return to health of three starters who were injured last winter, along with the addition of Hernando High transfer Nicole Sullivan.
In a rugged first week of action, SHS collected three wins over Citrus, Tarpon Springs and Weeki Wachee before Friday night’s 3-all draw at Fivay.
After handing Central its first loss on Monday night, 7-0, to improve to 4-0-1 overall, the 43-year-old Wern abruptly stepped down Tuesday morning.
Wern was crystal clear that he was not pressured by either athletic director Bob Levija or principal Carmine Rufa to resign.
“I love a challenge. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it,” explained the respiratory therapist for Florida Hospital. “I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. And I couldn’t stick it out till the end of the season.”
Wern explained, “I resigned on my own accord. Yesterday, I fielded two calls from parents, who were upset about their kid’s playing time. There’s a general sense of entitlement that I don’t agree with. Most of this stuff is frivolous, but I’ve been dealing with it for nearly four years.”
“I laid the foundation for a successful season,” noted Wern, who departs with a career 44-19-5 (67 percent) slate. “Whoever takes over, I wish them the best.”
Levija defended Wern, saying, “He did an outstanding job; I’m going to miss him.”
Former Springstead principal Susan Duval also defended Wern’s original hire.
“When Scott came in, the program wasn’t in the best of shape,” recalled Duval. “He came in and did amazing things. What he did with fundraising go above and beyond what most coaches would ever do to make sure the kids had those little extras.”
The first-year Rufa said of Wern’s departure, “It’s unfortunate. Everybody knows coaches don’t do this for the money. We hope to have someone in place by Thursday. We’ve already posted an opening for the position online.”
Rufa made it clear the administration didn’t oust Wern, adding, “I didn’t know him personally. He’s an off-campus coach. I was in Wern’s shoes before. As a (softball) coach, you hear things and they go through one ear and out the there. I think he was tired of hearing all the chirping.”
On where the program is headed, “We’ve got some decent talent,” insisted Rufa. “Hopefully, we can have someone come in and not upset the applecart. Those kids have been playing well; we don’t want them to stumble.”