Spring Football: Back on the grind again
It’s been over six months since the majority of local high school football teams put their pads on. Fortunately for everyone, it’s time to dust them off again as spring football practice is finally here.
For 20 days and nearly the entire month of May, coaches and fans have the chance to get an early glimpse of what teams may look like for the 2016-2017 season.
Beginning April 25, schools will suit up once again, with a major task: how to fill the holes left from the departing seniors.
The month of practice concludes with a spring game or jamboree against other schools as a measuring stick of what to work on in the summer and fall.
Raines, Trinity Christian, and University Christian were the final three teams standing last fall, while Columbia advanced to the Final Four. The four will spend the spring replacing several key starters, but there is plenty of talent waiting to replace them.
Columbia (12-2) at Sandalwood (9-3)
One of the featured spring games to watch is Columbia traveling to Sandalwood May 20 in a highly anticipated matchup.
Columbia is hands down the most veteran-laden team returning, with nearly the entire offense coming back.
Among those returning are junior quarterback Davin Shuck (208 of 383 for 3798 yards, 39 TD, 17 INT), junior tailback Kamario Bell (1,235 yards and 16 TD on 195 carries), and sophomore receiver Nathan Maxwell (37 catches for 585 yards, eight TD).
Defensively, the Tigers return freshman Jaylen Brown (103 tackles, 14 TFL, 5.5 sacks) and junior Robbie Moon (97 tackles, 9.5 sacks), who will have their hands full trying to stop a young but talented Saints offense.
The Saints will spend most of their spring trying to replace quarterback Eli Peters and receiver Phil Benker, who both have moved on to the Big Ten Conference. One playmaker back on offense is junior tailback Logan Wright, who ran for over 1300 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While the offense has a lot of questions to answer, the defense is solid with the return of key playmakers, junior Bradley Jennings Jr. and junior cornerback Ameer Speed. Sandalwood has also added a transfer, junior cornerback from Lee, Quran Hafiz. All three have dozens of offers and will be counted on heavily while the offense learns to adapt to new schemes.
Trinity Christian (14-0) at Raines (12-2)
Perhaps there isn’t a more depleted team to repair in the area than Raines.
They had the largest Signing Day class in Jacksonville, which, although amazing, has left them with significant gaps to fill.
Gone are quarterback Augie DeBiase, tailback Alex Rutledge, trio of receivers Rick Wells, Dalvin Storey, and Ronald Patterson, as is half the offensive line.
Junior lefty quarterback Ryan Williams saw time in several games and appears to be pretty lethal. The most dangerous kick return specialist in the state is back in junior Willie Wright, who accounted for six return touchdowns while also hauling in five touchdown catches. A virtual unknown on the prospect radar last season, Wright picked up numerous D-I offers in the offseason and is now one of the most sought after recruits in the area.
Also gone is the entire defense including Michael Pinckney, Jaquan Bailey, Joshua Bailey, and Solomon Kindley.
The Vikings will have to grow up quickly in the spring to face the most explosive team in the state: Trinity Christian.
Outside of finding a replacement for Billy Cobb III, the Conquerors return nearly everyone on both sides of the ball.
Junior tailback Rasheed Martin, junior receiver DJ Matthews, junior tailback DaeQuantae Showers, sophomore tailback Raynell Killian, and junior kicker Frankie Onate are among the many athletes on offense.
The defense is stacked with junior cornerback Shaun Wade, junior safety Derrick Smith, sophomore linebacker Eriq Gilyard, sophomore safety Chamarri Conner, and sophomore cornerback Tyreke Johnson.
Clay (10-4) at Bartram Trail (9-4)
With Bilal Ally off to U-Mass, the Blue Devils offense will feature a combination of junior quarterback Jaylan Jenkins and junior tailback Colin Wilson, both of whom will run behind junior guard Jarrod Leeds.
Jenkins (32 of 52 for 468 yards/three TD and 567 rushing/seven TD) is a dual threat quarterback who can burn teams either with his arm or legs.
Wilson, who has battled injuries throughout his career, came back with a vengeance, accumulating over 500 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. With teams trying to stop Ally, it was Wilson who came up with big runs in the playoffs for the Devils.
For the Bartram Trail Bears, the quarterback combination of junior Jordan Smith (105 of 196 for 1,715 yards, 18 TD) and sophomore Joey Gatewood (59 of 103 for 713 yards/six TD, 871 rushing/six TD) should be another good one to keep an eye on. Both are back to lead the Bears offense along with junior receiver Chandler Harvin (30 catches for 612 yard, eight TD).
Special Feature / North Florida / April-May 2016
Columbia, Sandalwood, Trinity Christian, Raines, Clay, Bartram Trail
By Corey Davis