Posted: 5:17 pm Thursday, May 26th, 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. Our final stop is Seminole Ridge, where the Hawks have turned themselves into one of the top programs in the area.
The regional finals of the Class 6A tournament against Orlando-Dr. Phillips last fall presented Seminole Ridge with an unfamiliar feeling. The Hawks were the underdogs.
Playing one of the top teams in the state, Seminole Ridge hustled its way to an early two-touchdown lead, only to see it slip away at the hands of a torrid Dr. Phillips comeback that eventually ended the Hawks’ history-making playoff run. Before last year, Seminole Ridge hadn’t won a playoff game and had only made two previous trips to the regional tournament. But in 2010, it rolled past Vero Beach and narrowly edged former district rival Atlantic, posting an 11-1 record against area teams in the process.
It was the latest layer of success placed on the foundation that coach Matt Dickmann has built in the young program’s six-year history. The Hawks have one of the best weightlifting programs in the state — they just won the state weightlifting crown this spring — and they have one of the best freshman/JV football programs in the area. As a result, the Hawks have built an assembly line of talent, churning out ready-to-play players to replace each graduating class.
The bar has been set higher each season, to the point that expectations are the highest they’ve been as Seminole Ridge enters its seventh year of existence. But replacing this latest senior class will be Dickmann’s toughest challenge yet. He’s losing hulking linebacker/fullback Tyler Butler, starting quarterback Trevor Vanscoy and a host of big, burly linemen.
In Gary they trust. What Seminole Ridge does return is lightning-fast running back Gary Holmes. Holmes (5-8, 175) ran for 1,445 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior, and he provided the outside quickness to match Butler’s in-between-the-tackles harassment of defenses. With Butler gone, finding a bruiser to help create space for Holmes on the outside will be a huge necessity this offseason.
Though fellow wing back Alex Pierre is gone, Elie Turene, Omar Pierre-Louis and rising senior Jerome Murray all are expected to help Holmes on the outside. Seminole Ridge will put Holmes and the other wing back in motion, running sweeps and other outside runs with pulling blockers. Having that speed makes it hard for defenses to track both the speedsters and the bruiser running up the middle.
“We’re looking pretty good (at wing back),” Dickmann said. “When they made Tyler Butler, they broke the mold. We have some backs who might be a little quicker and hit the seam, but it’s really hard to fill those shoes. I think we’ve got some guys who we can ask to work with the (wing backs) to be successful.”
Washington’s army. In Vanscoy’s place, rising junior Antwan Washington will take over at quarterback. Washington (6-2, 190) has had a very productive spring. His passes have looked sharp and he’s learning as he goes. His ability to run the ball may supplant at least some of Butler’s absence. Vanscoy showed last season that Seminole Ridge’s signal caller can be a very dangerous runner.
“I think Antwan learned a lot last year watching Trevor,” Dickmann said. “He’s really doing well.”
Look for Seminole Ridge to pass more this season. The Hawks are running the same Wing-T offense they ran last year, but the passing game has more developed weapons this year. As assistant head coach Justin Hilliker said, “We have more speed than we’ve ever had.”
Washington will have rising junior Rayfield Dixon (6-2, 175) and senior-to-be Darian Williams (6-2, 170) as his speedy split ends, and three-year starter Alex Santacroce will return at tight end. With plenty of talent around him, Washington said his main focus is molding himself into the kind of leader teams need at quarterback.
“I have to lead my team in the huddle, on the sidelines, in school, out of school and make sure everyone’s in sync,” Washington said. “That’s my job.”
Reloading the D. Several big linemen are gone — Ray Collet, Matt Gray, Fred Grunwald and Pierson Massillon to name a few — and they’ll be hard to replace. So will Butler and fellow linebackers Steven McPherson and Eric Strickland. But that’s why Seminole Ridge has built its program the way it has. The Hawks started the 2010 season with 24 seniors on their roster. They’re expecting their solid younger players to step in now.
The secondary should be OK. Rising senior cornerback Daniel Reyes leads a group of fast, athletic defensive backs.
“We’re looking for consistency,” Dickmann said. “That’s a lot of moving parts that left and we’re putting the new moving parts in. Sometimes they’re not all jelling together … If we can become a consistent football team, we’ll be a lot better.”
Outlook: As much as Dickmann plays down the “pipeline” that his program has built from its freshman and JV teams, it’s hard to ignore the cycle that has started out in Loxahatchee. Good players leave, young ones replace them and grow into even better players. If the goal is a state semifinal or farther this year, the need for a bruising back is the biggest. The coaching staff, which is one of the best in the area, should be able to mold a solid group of linemen on both sides of the ball.
Seminole Ridge will battle Palm Beach Gardens for district supremacy, and the Hawks will get some serious early tests with games against Park Vista and Dwyer. But despite a tough schedule, it’s not unreasonable to expect the same efficient, grind-it-out offense from Seminole Ridge that earned 11 wins and a regional finals appearance.