By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — The parents of Punta Gorda have probably been fed some excellent excuses from their curfew-missing teenagers this summer.
While some of those reasons may be fabricated, the roughly 50 members of the Charlotte High School football team had rock-solid alibis Friday night.
They were at football practice.
As the clock struck 12:01 a.m. on Saturday morning, the Tarpons hit the football field for the first full-contact practice of the 2017 season — the earliest permissible time according FHSAA rules.
“We did it four years ago and it was a cool thing, so we just kept doing it,” Coach Binky Waldrop said. “It just brings them together. We came in tonight, we practiced at 6 p.m. for about an hour and a half, we had a big team cookout, rested, and then we’ll go out at 12:01 and hit a little bit.”
For the last four seasons, Waldrop and the Tarpons have kept the midnight practice tradition alive, and it’s like no practice of any throughout the year.
It’s under the lights of the soccer field, as a DJ plays music and fans fill the bleachers to catch an early glimpse of their football team.
“I like how hyped up it is,” kicker Kenny Scribner said. “It’s not like any other practice. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Although there wasn’t much for Scribner to do during the midnight practice, he watched as teammates participated in their first drills where all players were able to hit engage in full contact.
This also was the first time the Tarpons were under the lights in Punta Gorda since a 39-0 loss in the Class 6A state semifinals to Miami Carol City.
“Last year is a thing of the past,” Waldrop said. “We have a new group this year. We started working last January for this, and it’s almost here. We’re looking forward to getting going.”
The Tarpons finished 12-1 last season, won district and region championships and were a win away from playing for a state title. They also graduated a significant group of high-contributing seniors, including quarterback Dee Hicks and running back Maleek Williams, both of whom are in camp with NCAA FBS programs.
Charlotte still has a few weeks of practice left before taking the field for its first regular season game on Aug. 25 against Dunbar. The Tarpons prep for the opener with a scrimmage at 7 p.m. Aug. 17 at Mariner.