ORANGE PARK - As football Friday nights amp up to provide 11 or more weeks of county-wide action, teams have returned to their practice fields to test out schemes, structure conditioning and input …
ORANGE PARK - As football Friday nights amp up to provide 11 or more weeks of county-wide action, teams have returned to their practice fields to test out schemes, structure conditioning and input new twists on traditional strategies.
“It’s a tough month because we can’t do much on the run game without pads on and guys across the line trying to stop us,” said Oakleaf coach Marcus Miller. “Mainly in the summer, we have passing scrimmages with other teams and we throw against our own guys, but when the pads come on, everything changes.”
The “everything changes” part is the part where running plays and catches passes and blocking and tackling by kind of running into somebody else morphs into full speed collisions, airborne acrobatics with violence for zipped passes and barking across the line of scrimmage in an attempt to put a bit of a scare into the other guy.
“There is a lot of jawboning back and forth, but with it they are still teammates and everyone knows you kind of don’t want to hurt your teammate,” said Ridgeview coach Bryan Arnette. “You don’t get to see the real football players on the team until those pads are on and it’s live.”
All that preparation being done and the transition from summer conditioning and game preparations to hand-to-hand contact in the heat of the day (after school 3 p.m. rather than before sunrise 8 a.m.).
“When it’s hot, attitudes change to,” said Fleming Island coach Damenyum Springs. “The weather; especially hot weather and humid weather makes a kid think about why he is out here. The real players don’t seem to mind it or they are good at coping and not revealing any discomfort. Others are the ones looking for the water bottles after every snap.”
Amidst all this sport posturing comes that one kid, that one player, that seems impervious to the weather, to the jawboning, to the tackles after the whistle and all the other things that take concentration away from the task at hand.
“It doesn’t have to be the biggest guy out there or the strongest guy on the team or the running back or the middle linebacker, but just the guy that kind of loves the heck out of just being on the field and being fearless amidst the chaos,” said Clay coach Kyle Kennard. “We got a lot of puppies out here this year because we graduated a ton and the beauty of the practices is that a lot of young guys see a chance to play varsity as a Blue Devil as a sophomore. The team’s history makes that a special space.”
“The Guy” for Ridgeview High is 6’3, 240 pound J.J. Moore, according to Arnette.
“He is the face of the program right now because he is always running at top speed and running through people whether at tight end or at defensive end,” said Arnette. “You watch him practice and you can see the fire in his eyes and can see his demeanor doesn’t change much from half speed to live contact. He scares people.”
Moore, who is most noted for his now-notably beat down of seven tacklers for a 30 plus yard touchdown pass after catch at Fort White in the Panthers’ spring game, is all about doing whatever it takes to stay on the field and to produce for his team.
“He absolutely loves his brothers,” said Arnette.
For Oakleaf, “The Guy” could be tight end plus Isaiah Shevchook, a quirky kind of in-deep pass catcher that is willing to scare guys away from tackling him when in the red zone. Shevchook, also an Oakleaf High wrestler, has the personality of a pistol-toting gunslinger in the Wild West with his runs downfield literally challenging, daring tacklers to stop him.
“He’s our Swiss Army Knife out there and takes that title kind of serious,” said Miller. “I don’t think he gets a lot of the press he deserves so he might act weird and do a flip or shoot a basketball shot after a score, but going to battle, he’s the one in the foxhole you want next to you.”
Orange Park’s run game is led by one guy who is pretty massive and a tank-sized source of power on the offensive line, but the guy who makes the Raiders tick is power running back JoJo Restall.
Very quiet, very stocky and muscular and with slightly bowed legs, Restall is the A-10 Warthog of Raider football with his downhill strength running that can quickly morph to breakaway T-38 sideline speed and is all about the proverbial in-your-face type offensive weapon.
“His presence is enough to make defensive coaches think about filling the box to stop him and, with Roderick up there (Roderick Kearney, 300-plus pound FSU committ offensive tackle), that’a pretty scary pair of bodies bearing down on tacklers,” said Orange Park offensive coach Corey Hawkins. “Those two can control a game if they want to.”
Clay’s “That Guy” is senior middle linebacker Dominic Martin, who is one of a few returners for the Blue Devils, who graduated a bucket ton of seniors from last year’s 7-3 finish.
“I want to see my teammates working hard and lifting weights and getting strong and then flying to the ball every down,” said Martin. “We don’t have alot of guys coming back and we don’t have a lot of size, but we are going to stick you if you have the ball and more of us will be close by to finish the job.”
Last year, Kennard’s main Black OPs guy was Clay Today defensive player of year Blake Thompson, but Thompson has moved with family away from Clay County.
“Dominic knows his role,” said Kennard.
At Middleburg, the role of “The Guy” goes to a guy who has his own nickname, “Cowboy” and who lives that image very toughly (?) on each down even in practice at half speed.
“I don’t know a different speed,” said Cruce. “I’m linebacker and I’m here to hit people and make plays.”
One guy who has liked being able to see Cruce up close is former Middleburg High linebacker Carvin Duverge, who himself was a classic Bronco bludgeoner then a collegiate linebacker that has returned to coach up his linebacker brethren.
“He is what you want for a linebacker in mental state,” said Duverge. “He’s tough. He’ll put a lick on you on every play. And, he will come you full tilt, four quarters. That’s the part that makes him special. He’ll be rocking your world in the final few minutes of a game whether Middleburg is up by 30 or down by 30.”
Keystone Heights coach Chuck Dickinson has had his share of “ornery (poop) kickers in his 30 plus years with John Brown and Sam Anderson recent small-sized linebackers with massive reputations as guys to avoid on the field, but, with a graduation class that took the likes of Logan Williams, Mason Dicks and Dalton Hollingsworth as guys that would rather knock you out than run out of bounds, Dickinson says he is waiting for “The Guy” to arrive.
“We have a lot of young guys of course from graduaton and one will surface,” said Dickinson. “These guys are all little tough guys, all live the weightroom and all love their school. It’s kind of a badge of honor to be “That Guy.”
Defensive tackler Trey Jeffries emerged in the Indians region final loss to The Villages as the guy who surfaced past a massive offensive line by The Villages to disrupt the backfield despite the Indians’ loss.
“He also runs the ball the same way, attacking the tackler,” said Dickinson. “He could be ‘The Guy’ this year if he runs hard he will be a load to take down. Any one of those youngs guys gets a shot, they can step in to that role.”
Over at Fleming Island, “The Guy” is a tough call as the Golden Eagles are ripe with tough, ornery guys that just want to win and win tough.
In the past, Ryan or Austin Smenda were missiles on defense, Vince Buzby was a crash test battering ram and Brandyne Mackey was a lethal trajectory as the top sack guy for the Golden Eagle defense.
For 2022, Joey Couch, defensive end, could be the guy that rises out of the pile of debris as the bottom feeder with a smile on his face like the first shark to the prey. Couch is a super strong, tough inside chaos maker and plays with a high emotion rating that makes him a force against much bigger blockers. Fleming Island has had it’s share of fast, strong defensive line prototypes and Couch could be the next on the list.
And, finally, Oakleaf’s scary guy is running back Devin Outlaw who brings a dump truck of brute strength with him when he runs.