Posted: 11:16 am Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
Note: Welcome to the PBGametime 2011 Spring Football Tour. During our three-week tour, we visit area teams, meet some of the top players and answer the most pressing questions. Today’s stop is Palm Beach Gardens, where the Gators’ rushing attack has them primed for a playoff run.
As disappointing as Palm Beach Gardens’ midseason slide was last season — when the Gators lost four consecutive games by a combined 26 points and dropped to a 2-5 record — there were plenty of positives that coach Chris Davis hopes will springboard his 2011 team to greater success.
Though it missed the playoffs, Gardens finished the season on a three-game winning streak, capping it off with a two-touchdown victory over West Boca, a Class 5A playoff team. The Gators produced two 400-plus-yard rushers in Roshard Burney and Alex Clark, two juniors who made the Post All-Area football honorable mention. And they return 6-foot-6, 290-pound tackle Avery Young to anchor their offensive line.
A three-headed monster — with friends. Burney (5-10, 215, No. 14 on the Preseason Big Board) is a bruising, elusive back with both good speed (he runs a 4.5 40) and size. He has a strong lower body that makes him an all-downs runner. But the junior readily admits he needs to work on his route-running and catching to become a complete back, and Davis said he showed signs of improvement after recent intrasquad scrimmages. Burney already has college scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Rutgers, FAU, Memphis and Georgia State.
Clark isn’t the fastest or most elusive back, but he’s tough to bring down. Davis calls him a down-hill runner. Clark (5-10, 180) makes smart cuts and gives defenses a different look than Burney. He’s also poised for a breakthrough as a defensive back, Davis said.
Junior-to-be Jermaine Carn (5-10, 190) was a mix-it-up back who spelled Burney and Clark last fall, running 45 times for 135 yards and three scores. He’s a bull in between the tackles.
“It’s gonna be exciting,” Davis said. “You throw some good fullbacks in there, and then (Carn) in short-yardage situations in there.”
Davis picks out Cam Napier for specific praise when asked about players who’ve caught his eye this spring. LSU and Syracuse coaches told Davis that they liked Napier (6-0, 220) at fullback.
Blocking helps. Gardens will have an inexperienced offensive line, but it does have the No. 1 college prospect in the area anchoring its young group. Young (No. 1 on the 2012 Big Board) has a streamlined, trim body for a lineman. He doesn’t look 290 pounds because he’s all muscle. He has a massive wingspan and the perfect broad frame for a big-money left tackle prospect with NFL potential. Davis receives a box’s worth of letters from colleges every day, and Young said his mailbox at home fills up just as quickly. Young has verbal scholarship offers from “every school you could imagine,” Davis said, including big names like Alabama, Auburn, Florida, FSU, Oklahoma and Oregon.
But for now, the affable big fella senses the importance of his role on the 2011 Gators. He’s one of 13 seniors on Davis’s team, and it’s up to Young to help the coaching staff mold an inexperienced line into a formidable force.
“We’re good at working together, listening and learning,” Young said. “Over this past few months that’s improved. That’s one thing I can say that’s great about this team. We’re all here for each other.”
Davis said that although rising junior James Cruise (6-5, 230) wasn’t a starter last year, he’ll help because of his game experience. Filling in the other three spots will be the challenge.
Options at QB. Gardens graduated starter Tyler Bergman, who will walk on to the UCF team this fall. Last year’s backup Nick Gallo, who’ll be a junior, has been hurt and won’t return until the summer. That’s given Davis a chance to observe Caleb Perez, JP Caruso and Rafael Ovalles. Perez, a freshman, has the build and potential, while Caruso possesses a huddle presence that Davis loves.
“My biggest concern is developing some consistency at the quarterback position,” Davis said. “I don’t know who that’s gonna be yet. All three guys are competing pretty hard. When Nick Gallo comes back off an injury this spring, that’s gonna be another wild card in that position.”
Athletes abound. Several newcomers give Gardens some added athleticism and speed. Linebacker Jacob Stanley and athletes Boosie Brown and Dante Smith each have good speed. Stanley is an imposing presence in the secondary. Davis refers to Brown and Smith as “home-run hitters” who can burn.
Jelani Jean-Louis, a 6-foot, 240-pound defensive lineman, impressed Davis in the orange-and-blue scrimmage. So did Stanley, and Napier made some plays at linebacker, proving his versatility.
Outlook. Gardens will play at Fort Pierce Central, a program in disarray, on Thursday at 7 p.m. In the fall, the Gators move into a new district, paired with Jupiter, Seminole Ridge and Wellington.
Gardens and Seminole Ridge, which beat Gardens in a 13-7 slugfest last fall, are the favorites in that group. The Gators’ schedule is navigable, and seven wins seems like a worthy number for the talent Gardens possesses. The pressure is on Davis to produce a playoff team, and as long as his team progresses on schedule, he should be able to deliver.