Dwayne Byrd replaced the legendary Dan Burke as head coach of the Palm Bay Pirates before the 2019 season. Palm Bay has been a consistent powerhouse in Brevard County for many years, with Burke leading the team to the postseason in 21 of his 23 seasons.
The Pirates finished 2-7 under Byrd last season, but the effort was there all season long, as the Pirates lost to Westwood by four and Harmony by one in consecutive games to start October.
The Pirates bookended the season with wins, beating Melbourne 35-30 in the opener and Bayside on November 1. The Pirates went 0-4 at home in 2019, but a year with Byrd’s system in place, and senior experience in key positions, will almost assuredly see the Pirates not only win at home but improve their overall record.
The Pirates lost some key pieces following last season including quarterback LaAnthony Valentine. He got the majority of starts in his senior season, throwing for 254 yards while also leading the Pirates in rushing with 894 yards on 138 carries. He averaged 127.7 yards per game and had six 100-yard games.
Markelle McKay and Marquel Crawford seeing time there as well. McKay and Crawford are both entering their senior season. Each of them threw just 15 passes in 2019, with McKay throwing for 70 yards, while Crawford threw for 49.
Matthew Blackmon Jr. was the Pirates’ second-leading rusher behind Valentine. He had 186 yards on 46 carries, while McKay had 139 yards and one touchdown. Keyshawn Spencer played in the opener and had three touchdowns, two rushing, and one receiving.
The defense will look to improve on a season that saw them get just four sacks, and seven interceptions to go along with 17 passes defended. Blackmon Jr. is the Pirates’ top returning tackler, with 45, just five off the team lead for 2019.
Clay Hayes had 47 tackles, Curlie Spencer had 43 tackles in his freshman season, while DJ Pearson had 41 tackles, and Kwamir Mercer-Finkley had 38, with one sack. These guys should be back in 2020.
Pearson was the Pirates leading return guy, getting 97 kickoff return yards and 51 on punt returns. Laterance Jones punted five times last season, for 165 yards. He should be the primary punter this season.
The Pirates’ schedule is still being worked through, but they will have a tough early test, hosting the Cocoa Tigers on August 28. They will play home games against Astronaut and Eau Gallie in the final two weeks of September. Those games will start at 7:00 p.m.