Four lead QB ranks for county teams

By Randy Lefko
Posted 8/10/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Football is just a stone’s throw away from ramping up in Florida and four key guys in Clay County have four different reasons to be fired up to go in August.

Clay High …

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Four lead QB ranks for county teams

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Football is just a stone’s throw away from ramping up in Florida and four key guys in Clay County have four different reasons to be fired up to go in August.

Clay High quarterback Caleb Eason wants a second bite of the apple that got away from him last year when his Blue Devils’ football team fell short in the Class 5A state semifinal to eventual runnerup Ponte Vedra High School.

“Fundamentals; getting the little things right,” said Eason. “I’ve been working to getting the ball out faster and making better reads. We want to go to the next game.”

In Clay’s epic run through the region playoffs; with three games on the road ending with the state semifinal at home, Eason put on a display of marksmanship from the pocket that created opportunities for a Blue Devils’ offense that has traditionally relied on a rugged ground game to succeed.

Against North Marion, in the region semifinal, Eason found wideout Jaylan Jenkins with a 50-yard strike that sealed the game.

In the region final, against River Ridge, Eason, who had been installed at quarterback to allow Jenkins’ to use his speed downfield for big gains, misfired in the first half on a handful of passes, but regrouped over halftime and sliced passes to senior wideout Ajay Belanger as Clay won 39-10 to head back home.

Against Ponte Vedra, Clay, with Eason and Belanger working around theatrics from Jenkins and Louisville-bound slugger Colin Wilson, stayed within three points through the second half only to fall short with 4:43 to go and the score at 45-42.

“To get so close each of the last two years will drive us to improve and to find ways to get better” said Hoekstra, after the final score finished at 52-42. “I was very impressed and proud of our kids to keep answering and the offense had over 550 yards and scored 42 points.”

In the final series for Clay, Eason, forced to throw downfield, was intercepted.

For Ridgeview High junior quarterback Tyler Huff, a second 0-10 season is not something he expects to see in 2017.

“Expectations are high this season,” said Huff, who finished with 1654 yards and 14 touchdowns for the year, but no wins. “We always either started out really strong or real slow then did the opposite in the second half; dropped off or came on strong, but not enough. This year’s objective is to finish the whole game.”

On the ground, Huff accounted for 279 yards rushing with no Panther running back getting over 400 yards.

“Our three running backs this year; Trent Coleman, Jaidan Turner and Caleb Plyler, will have to take the pressure off,” said Huff. “Kiaran Turner, a senior, was my top receiver and he comes back.”

Panther coach Cameron Porch thinks the weight room is the big difference this year.

“Bigger, stronger athletes are better able to tackle and block and go the whole four quarters,” said Porch, who coached the boys weightlift team to an undefeated season.

In their closest game of 2016, a 14-12 loss to Middleburg, Huff fell prey to a hard rush and interception despite putting up 272 yards of offense against the Broncos.

In an early offensive explosion against Fleming Island, a 20-9 early lead, Ridgeview shorted out in the second half to lose 38-20. Huff hit Turner with two long passes to energize the upset attempt.

“It was our best half all season, not best game,” said Porch, after the game.

Middleburg High senior quarterback Garrett Blanchett thinks his Bronco teammates need to change the result of their disastrous region playoff game last year that came after a 13-year drought.

“I guess I’m going to have more experience from last year and hope to not make the mistakes I made last year,” said Blanchett. “We have some young guys on the line and I’m going to have to lead the huddle.”

Blanchett ably got the Broncos into the playoffs with a district runnerup finish and a long trip to Crestview in the regions where the noticeable inexperience, a 35-0 loss, may have hampered the Broncos attempt at a deep region run.

“I don’t like that people thought we may have been a fluke,”said Blanchett. “We want to go back.”

Blanchett loses some downfield weapons in wideouts Alex Mortimer, running back Robert Lowder and Alex Joe and 6’-5” tight end Andrew Austin.

“Junior tailback Andrew Thomas (4.5-4.6 40 yard guy) adds the speed to the run game with fullback Kodi Carrington a blocking fullback who can run the ball tough up the middle,” said Blanchett. “We hope to soften up defenses by hitting them inside and outside, more quick hitting stuff.”

Fleming Island High sophomore Dean Hyams thinks he got caught in the cross hairs of teams targeting one of the youngest quarterbacks in the big Class 7A ranks and wants to show that his trial by fire will produce good results.

“Honesty, I think I got a little nerves out there with the Friday night lights thing and the big football crowds in the early part of the season,” said Hyams. “The whole team has worked hard to improve on last year. I’m working on getting out of the pocket more to open the field up.”

Against Menendez, in the Golden Eagles’ spring game, a 14-14 halftime score, Hyams was effective in roaming the outer perimeter of the backfield before firing downfield with success to his receivers.

“I think it was a desperate kind of reaction last year to run from the pass rush, but this year, I’m not panicking out there,” said Hyams. “The new look is to get more time and the receivers; all upper classmen, know how to break routes and get open when I get out there. Senior tight end Nick Ferendo is the guy I rely on because he’s easy to spot at 6’-4.”

Hyams pushed his way into the starting lineup in the second half of the season with Barry Brown, Jackson Bull and K.B. Ashe all sharing duties in most of the snaps, but Fleming Island coach Damenyum Springs likes that Hyams has worked to the be the starter right from start.

“Dean has taken hold of the team as a leader with the seniors around him making him step up,” said Springs. “Those guys around him will protect him as he progresses. We got seniors on the offensive line too.”

Springs has Ferendo, Bull, tailback Anfernee McCaskill and transfer Bobby Brown all capable of becoming weapons for Hyams as Fleming Island looks to battle in the very tough district lineup with Buchholz, Bartram Trail and Oakleaf.

Completing the quarterback lineup around the county, St. Johns Country Day School and Oakleaf both seem destined to rely on freshmen; Max Monroe at St. Johns and Walter Simmons at Oakleaf, with both looking sharp in early summer. At Orange Park High, left-hander A.J. Mealer is the probable starter while at Keystone Heights, coach Chuck Dickinson has junior Adrien Cieno, who was competing for the spot last year, but injured a shoulder.

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