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Suwannee quarterback Chloee Sanders throws during practice Monday as Tyra Kalandyk applies pressure.

LIVE OAK, Fla. — Suwannee High history will be made this weekend in Tampa.

When the Bulldogs play in the Tampa Bay Bucs Preseason Classic at the Buccaneers’ training facility, it will mark the official launch of Suwannee’s flag football program.

It will also mark the end of a short preseason that passed in the blink of an eye for coaches Ricky Hufty and Laura Kinsel.

Suwannee flag football schedule

Date Opponent Time
Feb. 28-29 Tampa Bay Bucs Preseason Classic TBA
March 5 Baker County 7 p.m.
March 10 at Belleview 6:30 p.m.
March 12 Rickards 7 p.m.
March 19 Bradford 6 p.m.
March 24 FAMU 6 p.m.
March 27 Mandarin 7 p.m.
April 1 Madison 7 p.m.
April 3-4 at Capital City Classic TBA
April 10 at Leon 7 p.m.
April 14 Godby 7 p.m.
April 16 at Wakulla 6 p.m.

“It happened so fast,” Hufty said Monday following Suwannee’s practice. “We’re trying to get them in the right spot. We definitely have to back ourselves down because we know where we want to be, but it is definitely such a learning process.

“But it’s cool, they’re blank slates. Just teaching them the fundamentals of the game and then trying to get them to play fast.”

Hufty, a former assistant at Godby as well as head coach at Leon and Rickards, is the first head coach for Suwannee’s fledgling program. And the Bulldogs will need to be quick learners and get up to speed in a hurry because they will be jumping into the deep end.

The invitation to play in the Bucs’ preseason classic means being in a field of 55 teams that includes most of the top programs in the state. Suwannee’s first game Saturday will be against Jefferson High from Tampa, who Hefty said was a top-5 team in the state a year ago.

“It’ll be fun,” Hefty added. “We’ll get after it quick.

“It’ll help us see where we’re at, No. 1. They’ll see the speed of the game. They’ll see how it looks like, how teams are playing.”

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SHS coach Ricky Hufty is excited about the launch of the Bulldogs’ flag football program.

Hefty wants Suwannee to be playing fast. Early on, with a roster full of players new to the game, he expects the Bulldogs to be basic offensively.

But even while running a “vanilla” scheme, Hefty said the Bulldogs will definitely play hard. In fact, he expects that to be a strength of the inaugural SHS team. It’s also an attribute that he feels can lead to a successful season.

“We may not be the fastest team around, we may not be the deepest or anything like that, but in terms of playing hard, being in the right spot and being really coachable, I think that will be a real strength of ours and you can win a lot of games doing that,” he said.

Heading into this weekend’s preseason games and then the regular season and home opener March 5 against Baker County at 7 p.m. at Langford Stadium, the keys to Suwannee’s offense will be handed to Chloee Sanders at quarterback. Hefty said other Bulldogs that he expects to see play prominent roles include seniors Stephanie Duarte, Suzie Gonzalez and Kalle Herring as well as Maci Campbell among many others.

“There’s a really good core group there that we’re excited about leading us,” he said.

He’s also excited about the program’s launch and bringing another side of football to a community that loves the sport. Hefty said fans that make their way to Langford Stadium this spring will see a lot of similarities between flag football and its full-contact fall cousin.

“We’d love to pack Langford obviously,” he said. “I think we want to put out a product the community can be proud of. They’re going to see that it’s all football at its roots. Obviously there’s different intricacies to the game but it’s very fast paced. It’s quick hitting, it’s fun. The girls are just as competitive as the guys are, and it is all football.

“So in a football-driven community, it’s going to be pretty cool for people to see our girls out there playing the same sport.”

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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