The second-year Bucs coach hopes a successful summer leads into a big season.
What has the team been doing this summer?
Lifting weights, conditioning, going to camps.We took 45 to 50 kids to UCF for a 7 on 7 and O-line/D-Line, and then we took about 35 to 40 to USF the following week, and then the week after that, our 7 on 7 went to Florida. And then the next day, we had about seven O-line/D-line kids go to UF. So, they've been doing a lot of competing together. It's been been a really good competitive summer, which is what you want. You want to always do your best to compete every day.
Your team has stood out on the 7 on 7 trail.
We made the championship game at UF and then final four at USF. We've done really, really well at both of the tournaments, for sure.
Not every coach is a proponent of 7 on 7 competitions. Your thoughts?
I think it does a good job of helping everybody figure out how to compete. Obviously, you see some schemes and stuff that people wouldn't normally do, but I just think it helps for competition purposes. So, that's why I love it.
How does the competition look at quarterback?
Yeah, both kids (E'Zaiah Shine and Damarcus Creecy) are competing. Both, without a doubt, are going to help us on our road to a district championship and trying to win a state championship. Both kids have played really well and are doing everything we've asked them to do.
Do you expect both of them to play a lot?
Yeah. We've got some things going with E’Zaiah. He's gone to Florida State's camp and Florida's camp, and he's had some coaches ask him to start playing defensive back, and he's gotten a lot of push and interest as a DB. So, it's kind of been awesome to watch him mature as an athlete. But he and Damarcus are both going to play quarterback for us, and Shine’s gonna play some DB. We're excited about how our team is shaping up in the sense of being able to use all of our talent.
Is E’Zaiah going to be primarily a DB or quarterback?
Probably even. I think that he's a kid that you don't ever want off the field. If we’re rotating, and it's not his series to play quarterback, he'll come and play DB, because that kid is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and he’s run a 10.9, 100 meters. So, you know, a kid like that we've got to make sure we keep on the field at all times.
Do the quarterbacks have different styles?
Oh, no. Both can give you whatever you want. Both can be pocket guys, and both can run when necessary. I think both are good at whatever you want them to be.
The offensive line struggled early last season. Has that position become a team strength?
Without a doubt, our O line and our wide receivers are going to be tremendous for our program. The offensive line is going to be one of the strongest units on our team. (Senior guard) Malcolm Curry is one of our captains. He was the best guy we had up front last year. He won our most Offensive Impact Award, just because of his impact on every game. There's not anybody in front of him that he can't move, and once we figured out that we were a running football team last year, Malcolm was, without a doubt, a cog to that success.
Heading into your second season as the Bucs' head coach, what's different this time around?
I think we are able now to have our true mold on the kids. While there were some holdovers from the staff before, I think our staff had a year to get better. And I think that we're not having to monitor the kids as much. We're now able to continue to develop our relationships, and our identity of what we want them to be. Last year, we got there as a staff two weeks before spring practice started. It was a fast, hard transition. We are 1,000% in a different spot now, because now it's just about getting better at what we're doing and maintaining our integrity as a football program and not trying to skip any steps.
"It's kind of been awesome to watch (E'zaiah Shine) mature as an athlete. But he and Damarcus (Creecy) are both going to play quarterback for us, and Shine’s gonna play some DB. We're excited about how our team is shaping up in the sense of being able to use all of our talent."
— TRAVIS ROLAND
Which players have made the greatest strides since last season?
A kid named Clarence “Man Man” McCloud. He was a backup wideout last year. We've got big names and guys like a Ajai Harrell and James Randle that play wide receiver for us, but I think Man Man has stepped up tremendously. He had four or five catches in the spring game. And even all summer long, he's been a tough guard for a lot of people. I mean, we played some top-notch competition in 7 on 7s, and nobody's been able to guard him. In the weight room, he has gotten stronger, gotten bigger and faster, has gained weight. He's not a big guy. He's diminutive, but he's been tremendous for us.
Then another guy that sticks out like a sore thumb is (tight end/defensive end) L.J. McCray, because he wasn’t a weight-room kid, and his bench press has probably jumped 75 to 100 pounds. And his squat probably jumped 150 pounds. And his mean streak, I think L.J.’s found that he’s 6-6, 255 pounds, and he's learning how to use it, because he's made himself into a much better pass catcher. Playing defensive end kind of comes naturally to him. But the way he's trained and transformed himself into a real-deal tight end has been amazing.
And then, the other guy is Ramon McCollough, who plays defensive line for us. He’s another kid whose weight room numbers have shot up in every category. He had three sacks in the spring game, and he made the final five, and got one of the MVP shirts at both the UCF and USF big-man camps. All of these kids are in the class of '24.
Looking at your schedule, what sticks out?
You've got Seabreeze, obviously. It's already the Mainland-Seabreeze game. It's got a chance to be a district championship game for one or both of us. So, that game becomes a lot more important, because that's how you guarantee a playoff spot, through a district championship. We've got Kissimmee Osceola, who's a favorite to win a state championship. This is the first time we’re playing (veteran state championship winning coach) Rick Darlington at DeLand. Then you go (against) Flagler Palm Coast again, and then Bartram Trail comes to town. So, the schedule sets up really nicely. You know, we've got to avenge a loss to University (in the 2021 spring game). So, I think there's a lot of different places where we can look at our schedule and say, 'We got to get up' for all those teams.
Deltona and Pine Ridge are the other two teams in your district. How do they look?
(Deltona) lost to Seabreeze in overtime, and didn't make the playoffs (last season). They've been developing and they've got a couple of transfers. So, they'll be pretty good. Pine Ridge has a new coach. So, they'll be formidable as well.
As always, you start the season with DeLand?
Oh, yeah, that's that's always Week 1. The last time DeLand-Mainland hasn't been Week 1 was when we were in the same district for two years, back in 2009 and 2010.