Green Cove Springs- On a hot Saturday morning, about 200 of the Clay Crazies and their parents showed up to see the Clay Blue Devils show what they have so far in this very early stage of the season. …
Green Cove Springs- On a hot Saturday morning, about 200 of the Clay Crazies and their parents showed up to see the Clay Blue Devils show what they have so far in this very early stage of the season.
“I always want to measure the kids when we have the pads on,” said Clay coach Kyle Kennard. “That’s the difference maker when summer is over. The game changes when someone can knock your face in on the field.”
The team moved off the practice field and into the stadium to give everyone a game day feel for an intra-squad scrimmage. The field looked like an exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo with enough Zebras (Officials) in training to look like a rugby team was on the field with the Blue Devils.
“We lost a ton of starting seniors last year and the kids today played knowing that today was the day that a starting job could be won,” said Kennard. “Young kids were flying to the ball and making plays while the returners; offensive linemen, linebacker Dom Martin and ball handlers Payton Dykas (Wide Receiver) and Chandler Thomas (running back) had nice plays throughout the day.”
The team showed some impressive play on both sides of the ball as Quarterback Merrick Rapoza was putting on quite a show, airing it out several times with very good accuracy.
“He comes from a strong youth football program and showed a lot of pocket presence and good decisions,” said Kennard. “He fumbled one ball and he recovered it, but he knew how it happened and made a mental adjustment. We preach ball security all the time and he got a little lazy on a scramble and did not tuck it tight.”
Rapoza learned what it is to feel heat as the Blue Devil defense gave him a quick three-count before Rapoza had to vacate the backfield, roll out, or try a run. Notable was his intense training to keep his eyes downfield, no matter who was chasing him. A great display of discipline and concentration. On one scramble to get away from a chasing defender, Rapoza ran, extending his arm and fumbling. Something to work on for the early season heat and hand sweat. He recovered but lost 10 yards. Rapoza connected several times with Payton Dykas who turned and picked up very good yardage. Rapoza also connected with Jaden Paulk who showed great hands to pull the ball in and secure it, one time late in the scrimmage for a touchdown pass around the right side.
“We are not that big at the attack point and we will need Dykas and Paulk to make defenses honor them out there,” said Kennard. “They keep catching balls and that will free up Chandler between the tackles where he ran tough and broke off some big runs today.”
The offensive live seemed to provide good protection. What was hard to tell was the talent level of the offensive and defensive lines. Was the defense that good that the offense did not get any great run production?
“Again, with senior starters gone, both sides are thin,” said Kennard. “We have few weeks to get a little bigger, little stronger and little smarter up front when we have to face the bigger offensive lines around here.”
Most interior runs only went for a yard or so. Or was the offensive line that good that they kept the defenders out of Rapoza’s face most of the scrimmage?
“Bradley Warren is out top returning lineman with Cody Mobley in there as one of the bigger guys,” said Kennard. “They will be solid. Brian Prince showed off some good defensive pursuit around them and Dominic had a nice red zone interception.”
The defense never had a wide-open hole to blitz through. Special teams for punting and field goals populated well when called and we’ll have to wait to see who the leg will be as we saw a couple different players audition. The best news is, we only must wait two more weeks to have all the questions answered. With the team on the stadium field, we know football is back and it’s time for Friday Night Lights.
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