Thursday afternoon walk-through practices at University School often have a party atmosphere.
Music is blaring — varying from modern pop, R&B, hip-hop hits to drum line anthems or college fight songs. Players and even coaches will sometimes spontaneously bust a few moves during pauses in the action.
But when the ball is spotted for the next drill, the players snap back to attention like clockwork.
The unorthodox practice style might appear to be a celebration for University, who many believe cleared its biggest hurdle in its bid to win its first state championship when it beat American Heritage-Delray last Friday.
But it’s a long-standing technique University coach Roger Harriott instituted seven years ago when he helped found the school’s football program that has greatly improved team chemistry.
“It’s something therapeutic for the kids to allow them to unwind and enjoy themselves and bond with their coaches and teammates while still keeping their focus on their goals for the upcoming game,” Harriott said. “From Monday through Wednesday, they put in the hardest work. This is their chance to release some stress and express themselves before they get into business mode.”
The method has worked again this season for University (10-0), which stands one victory away from returning to the state championship round for the second time in three seasons.
The Suns will travel Friday to take on Clearwater Central Catholic at 7:30 p.m. in a Class 3A state semifinal.
“It’s a great way for us to keep loose, but we don’t take it too far because we treat every Thursday like it’s the day before we play for a state championship,” senior defensive tackle Maquedius Bain said. “We were even out here on Thanksgiving in the evening practicing. We looked forward to it.”
Harriott said he learned the importance of using psychological methods to inspire his players from his high school coach George Smith at St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Coach Smith was great at using psychology to inspire his players,” Harriott said. “Kids these days, what do they love? They love social media, music, and those types of things. It makes for a healthy way for them to connect with us and their teammates.”
Despite the festive mood, senior quarterback Mike White said there’s no room for slacking.
“Our coaches won’t accept it if we’re not sharp,” White said. “If we go too far or don’t do what we’re supposed to do, they let us know about it.”
University players said it is helping them maintain focus during potentially the two most important weeks of their high school careers.
“Even after an emotional win like the one we had last week, we realize we haven’t won anything yet,” White said. “Our one goal is to win the state title and we’re going to be in the mindset until we do.”
Coral Glades senior Carly Goldstein was named Miss Golf by the Florida Dairy Farmers Association. The award is presented annually to the Association’s Golfer of the Year for the state of Florida.
Goldstein won the Class 2A state individual title this year after a 36-hole score of 4-under-par 140.
St. Petersburg High’s Jack McGuire was the boys’ winner. Plantation American Heritage’s Jorge Garcia, who won the Class 1A state title, was the runner-up in the voting.