Posted: 2:43 pm Monday, August 8th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
LOXAHATCHEE — A noticeably giddy Seminole Ridge team took to its practice field under the cloud cover at 7:45 this morning. Not only was it relatively cool and the start of a new football season, but the sand bunker that used to be Ridge’s practice field had become a lush green over the summer. Seminole Ridge coach Matt Dickmann even painted a giant “S” in the middle of it, reminiscent of a Stanford or Michigan State logo.
The Hawks got down to business right at 8, running warmups before breaking into individual groups. The potential for the 2011 edition of Seminole Ridge is very high. The Hawks return blazers Gary Holmes and Elie Turene as their wing backs in the wing-T offensive set that one opposing coach recently called “the spread offense with a bunch of fast running backs instead of receivers.” They also move junior Antwan Washington into the starting role at quarterback, and he has looked the part so far. He has three solid weapons in receivers Darian Williams and Rayfield Dixon and three-year-starter Alex Santacroce, the tight end, and Washington himself can be an imposing runner at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds.
The biggest question marks for Seminole Ridge are the fullback position and the line play on both sides of the ball. There is plenty of talent to fill in the (massive) gaps left by Colgate-bound fullback/linebacker Tyler Butler and the senior-laden lines that blocked and filled gaps for him. Dickmann said Justin Keip and EJ Elien will battle for Butler’s old fullback job. It’s a huge part of the Seminole Ridge offense, as the Hawks use the position to punish defenses between the tackles and serve as a decoy and/or blocker for end-arounds and sweeps for the speedsters.
For all the youth he says his team has, Dickmann possesses a very talented group. “The fastest we’ve ever had,” as he put it. And Seminole Ridge showed off that speed at its spring game, sprinting past Treasure Coast 43-14 and displaying a gashing rushing and passing attack. Even though Ridge technically returns only six starters, the experience of being key reserves on the best team in school history last season (the Hawks finished 11-2 and reached the regional finals) has prepared the new players to step right in and be successful, Dickmann said.
“I don’t know if we belong with the Dwyers and Glades Centrals of the world,” Dickmann said when told his team was considered among the best in the area. “We’re very young, but we do have the potential.”
BELLE GLADE — Expectations are even higher than normal for Glades Central this fall. Why? The Raiders return eight defensive starters from one of the best defenses in the state, and they also return senior receiver Jaime Wilson — a great route-runner with good hands and a high football IQ. Junior running back Aaron Baker, who didn’t play in the spring game, looked in shape and ready to return to his late-season form that earned him the starting job.
There were two major updates from the last time Glades Central was together in the public eye. First, quarterback Tanner Redish, though he does have more work to do, looked far sharper working with the first-team offense than he did in May after transferring from Glades Day. “He just told us how much faster the game is over here,” one of the assistants said of Redish. “He’s catching up now.”
Maybe even a bigger Glades Day transfer is Giovanni Lugo, a freshman quarterback and kicker. Lugo sent his new teammates into a frenzy early in practice by booting field goals up to 40 yards out. Toward the end of the kicking drill, standout linebacker/running back Dominique Gibson turned to new Glades Central coach Roosevelt Blackmon and said, “Coach, he said he can make it 5 yards farther.” So the team lined up deeper, and Lugo’s kick sailed through the uprights, prompting Gibson to bust out a short burst of salsa dancing as his teammates cheered.
There are a lot of changes to grasp at Glades Central. Not only is Blackmon new at the helm and Redish new under center, but former Raider Reidel Anthony has returned home to coach the offense. His impact has been immediate, several other coaches said. “They listen to him,” Blackmon said. The offense will still have the usual Ferraris at receiver in Wilson and junior Will Likely and a bruiser in tight end Jonathan Whitest. Baker and Gibson will also give the Raiders a punishing running attack, and senior Tavious Bridges, a beastly left guard, looks more than up to the task of leading an improved offensive line.
But for all the high expectations and pressure, the Raiders struggled in the early stages of the offseason. They had trouble jelling on offense in May, losing to Atlantic in their spring game, and then stumbled at the Dolphins’ 7-on-7 tournament in Broward County, an event they won in 2010. Yet the overall feeling as practice started in earnest on Monday was that a switch had been flipped in Belle Glade.
During one drill, Redish lofted a 40-yard rocket down the right side of the field toward a streaking Wilson, but Likely, who might be the best cornerback in the area, leaped in front of his teammate and swatted it away acrobatically. One assistant, who knew all about the criticism Glades Central received after losing its spring game and struggling this summer, turned and said, “We’re gonna be just fine.”
WELLINGTON — Palm Beach Central coach Rod Harris doesn’t want his team to be labeled as lesser than the sum of its parts. After all, the Broncos have produced plenty of talent over the years but haven’t produced when it comes to wins and losses. Harris thought he’d put together a pretty good team in 2010, but his defense was clobbered with injuries to five starters. In already brutal district, the task of making the playoffs for the first time school history became even more difficult.
Harris wants to change that this year. Central already has one of the most explosive athletes in the country in Angelo Jean-Louis, a solid possession receiver in EJ Sardinha and two massive linemen in sophomore KC McDermott and senior Edens Sineace. On defense, Central boasts cornerback Jhavon Williams, a transfer from American Heritage who recently committed to UConn, senior linebacker Daniel Brown and another Heritage transfer, Mike Maldonado. The goal is to put it all together.
“You can’t get too excited,” Harris said when asked if he was high on his talented team. “Everybody thinks they’re good. It’s August. But we have enough individual talent to really become a good team. We just have to stay healthy.”
Jean-Louis expects a breakout year (statistics-wise). The senior Miami commit will be used in every possible way. “He has to get touches,” Harris said. Central will use him on special teams, at cornerback, put him in motion, set up screens and try to get him in one-on-one coverage down field. The biggest challenge is getting whoever wins the quarterback battle between Brock Bukowski and Kyle Shafer to mesh with Jean-Louis and Sardinha.
PAHOKEE — Rain interfered with Pahokee’s afternoon practice, so I didn’t get a chance to see the Blue Devils. I do know that sophomore Rashaun Croney is now “the man” at Pahokee. Barring any changes of plans, Croney is expected to start at quarterback. Teammates said in May that the youngster tried to force big plays too much in his backup role as a freshman, which led to mistakes.
Pahokee will have plenty of athletic talent, namely receivers Keithlin Patrick and Shaquille White.
BELLE GLADE — Glades Day coach Pete Walker said he was simply happy to get back to practice on Monday. His team, riding the wave of 2010’s state championship, looks just as good as it’s been in the previous two state-title-winning seasons. Of course, the focal point of the offense is do-it-all running back Kelvin Taylor, who is on pace to break every major high school rushing record in the state of Florida.
But the Gators also have a few other wrinkles to their offense. Fullback Corey Garcia will be a handful when he spells Taylor. Quarterback John Barr, who will step in as the starter in Redish’s place (see Glades Central’s note above), and lengthy receiver Steven Williams will keep defenses honest with play-action.