OAKLEAF - Oakleaf High football coach Frank Garis noted a small dilemma in his summer approach to fall football.
"We have had up to 130 guys coming out to the conditioning practices and that number alone makes it difficult," said Garis, who finished at 7-3 last year without a playoff berth in the very tough Class 8A ranks of Bartram Trail, Mandarin and Flagler Palm Coast in region 1-8A. Mandarin the 2018 Class 8A champion wound up as the eighth seed of the massive district. "With groups only up to 20 guys plus a coach, the numbers make it difficult to organize the sessions."
Garis has a few positives on his side; one being all state-probable quarterback Walter Simmons, a four year starter to be; a much-amped up sophomore running back in Devin Outlaw, who bashed on to the fields last year as a freshman and has added some muscle power to his frame and a few additions from former 6A powerhouse Robert E. Lee High School, a region finalist the last two seasons.
"Walter is a grinder and he will be very prepared when things get started," said Garis. "Devin and senior Adrien Grey with Walter will be our three main skill players getting the ball. Devin got a little taller, over 200 pounds and been good looking out there. One of the top guys so far has been Trey Thomas, a secondary player from last year. He split time last year with corner and safety, but him and Terrance Anthony look to give us a strong secondary package."
One guy lost in the mix is junior linebacker Johnathan Goddard, younger brother to former Oakleaf High softball ace Baylee Goddard, who has transferred out to Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville. Also to Trinity is massive nosetackle Deon Briggs (300-plus pounds).
On the hook to become the next great Oakleaf High middle linebacker; among names like Shaquille Quarterman and Dexter Moore, Garis tagged junior Devin Smith as his candidate for the middle.
"I have seen Shaq out here running and preparing for his upcoming Jacksonville Jaguar season and that is a good thing for the kids to see," said Garis. "Right now, Devin looks to be the next guy in there. He came in in January from Lee High School."
Smith finished last year with Lee with 52 tackles and seven tackles for loss.
"He's 6'-2", 225 pounds and comes with a good body for linebacker," said Garis, who also adds senior defensive back Larry Smith from Lee; 51 tackles, five interceptions last year, to join top returners Chrystian Sellers and Thomas in the secondary.
Another young player that Garis sees with immense potential is defensive lineman Leanthony Stephens, a 6'-3', 215 pound athlete with family lineage including Kendrick Norton and Kamari Stephens, both NCAA Division I players and NFL prospects. Norton played at Trinity Christian and also for the University of Miami and the the Miami Dolphins. Stephens is a former Sandalwood High player and now is at Florida A & M University.
"He's got an impressive physical presence," said Garis. "And his family is deep in football talent."
The one aspect of restricted sessions that worries Garis a bit is the offensive line where he lost a bevy of senior talent and does not have the on-field capability of instructing the tackle-to-tackle attack as he would like.
"With no contact even without pads; just some shadow kind of movements, it's very tough to teach the contact aspect of offensive line," said Garis. "The guys that were with us last year have not had contact since the Clay game (season final)."
With complexity of attack part of Oakleaf's offensive approach, Garis thought he may have to simplify his attack to a straight downhill approach at the onset of the season and then add some wrinkles as the players pick up technique along the way.
"I say we will be about 6-8 weeks behind the curve if the games still start in August," said Garis. "We have had some outside zone, stretch plays that take on some reads downfield that are teaching and repetition-intensive and, with a fairly young offensive line coming in, may not be the best setup for them early for what they have to do on the run. We'll make it simple first and see how it goes."
Garis noted that Oakleaf is in Clay County Phase 2; using a football and implementing the weightroom.
"With the numbers again and the limited groups, that's asking my coaches to pull seven, eight hour shifts," said Garis. "That's not fair to them or the kids. The return on invest, on that aspect, is not there."
Garis has athletes that live close to each other and have been able to find gyms or weightroom facitlities and he has been encouraged of the work ethic of his team.
"For the most part and with any breakoff like they've had, our skills guys have been involved in some kind of training or fitness situations," said Garis. "That first week of the summer, with no footballs or all that, we were a glorified track team. It's all sideways algebra. Everyone is in the same boat."