Posted: 9:46 am Monday, August 8th, 2011
Reports from Day 1 of high school football practice at Dwyer, Jupiter, Jupiter Christian, Palm Beach Gardens, Suncoast (with video)
By Matt Porter
PALM BEACH GARDENS – First of all – not to poke the bear or anything – what happened to the heat? At 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 8, it was a mere 81 degrees with a “feels like” temperature of 88. It was so cold, Palm Beach Gardens senior lineman Avery Young took the field in sweatpants. It only took 20 minutes of shuttling around the practice field to break a sweat. Weak stuff. Yes, it’s foolish to taunt the August heat. It’s not on time for the first day of fall football practice, but it’ll be here soon.
Our first stop of the season was Gardens, where the Gators hope to solve a few position battles – quarterback, defensive line among them – and surprise some teams. Thirty-nine players reported for varsity practice, including one new student who didn’t know junior varsity practice begins at 3. They started the outdoor part of practice with 7-on-7 plays, hurry-up drills and some basic running plays.
Gardens running back Alex Clark, a savvy senior, thickly built classmate Roshard Burney and huge fullback Cameran Napier looked like a strong foundation for a rushing attack. Quarterbacks J.P. Caruso and Caleb Perez got comfortable taking reps. Coaches motivated in different ways, sometimes by chiding, sometimes by supporting. The linemen worked on footwork and hand placement after the drills, and when they weren’t busy, they picked up footballs and threw Hail Mary passes to each other.
To run a fade route for a touchdown isn’t in Young’s future, but a starting spot on a BCS offensive line is. Young, all of 6-foot-6 and 284 pounds, was as much a teacher as a player on the first day. Stepping in after a drill, he showed a newcomer left tackle how to utilize a two-point stance. “You can’t be scared to lean in a little bit,” he said to his teammate, mimicking the move as the player stood and nodded.
As the other players ran wind sprints, Young knelt and watched from the sideline. Two years ago, he was a babyface with massive potential, still growing into his body and learning the limits of his strength. He’s now he’s expected to bring others up to his level. “I was kinda nervous about it …” Young said, pausing when asked how he felt about taking control of the team. “Because everything kinda falls on me. But I’m gonna do my best.” His brother, Detroit Lions defensive end Willie Young Jr., had some simple advice. “All he said was ‘Ball out’,” Young said.
It will be a few weeks before Gardens coach Chris Davis turns his focus to his Sept. 2 season opener at Palm Beach Lakes. Too much for players to learn, too much for him to teach. “We’re just trying to learn our plays right now,” he said.
JUPITER – Jupiter coach Charlie Persson’s 38th year coaching high school football – his 30th at the school – started off with a renewed focus on heat safety. More than 110 players started the day with various types of cardio before breaking into position groups. At every turn, there was water, cooling tents and ice towels. Players were weighed before taking the field, and would be weighed again before the start of the evening session.
“Everything we’re doing out here with the water, the ice baths, the weigh-ins, is for you,” Persson told his team, huddled at 11 a.m. “We’re treating you how you should be treated. We’re going to work hard here, but we’re going to work like champions.”
Jupiter’s marquee player is quarterback Tyler Cameron, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior who last week committed to USF. Persson calls Cameron “special,” but his receiver corps gets more accolades. “They’re the best I’ve ever had,” Persson said. “We go six, seven deep with interchangeable receivers.”
Senior J.D. Davis, one of the county’s most prolific pass-catchers last year, can play in several spots. Senior Glenn Collier and his brother, sophomore Mar’Keith Dokes, turn heads with their speed and leaping ability. Seniors Brent Boyd and Charlie Giles are solid and potentially productive. Tight end Collier Logan, a senior transfer from Benjamin, looks like a reliable target.
The Warriors clearly are Cameron’s team, as they were last year when he led them in rushing and passing yards. The lefty looked Friday-night ready, throwing strikes in tight and airmailing several pretty deep passes. “I think we have what it takes to make a deep run in the playoffs after winning our district,” Cameron said. “I’m really excited about this year.”
Jupiter’s offensive line returns one senior (6-5, 240-pound Chas Lofquist) and four juniors with experience, including right guard Leroy Johnson (6-0, 305) and right tackle Frank Dombrowski (6-6, 255).
Persson has new blood on the sidelines in former Lake Worth assistant Doug Uccellini (running backs), ex-Florida Gators and NFL quarterback Eric Kresser (offensive coordinator) and German native Rene Neunzig (linebackers), a teammate of Kresser’s in NFL Europe who spent his first morning on staff instructing the junior varsity linebackers. “I don’t think they know what I’m talking about,” Neunzig joked.
After the morning session broke up, Cameron was the first to sprint to a trash barrel filled with ice water and plunge in waist-deep. His teammates followed, shouting, hollering and exiting the barrel on stiff legs.
“It’s crazy,” Cameron said of the experience. “You get in there and your legs start to hurt. Then you go numb. It’s so refreshing, though. I don’t think anyone’s going to have any problems with the heat.”
JUPITER – Jupiter Christian‘s program is larger than ever.
On Day 1 of the 2011 season, 45 players reported to the practice field behind the school, 16 seniors and 18 freshmen, with several more missing. They ran an 8 a.m-noon session that included conditioning, position drills and several rounds of walkthroughs before heavy rains came to wash down everything.
Quarterback Kedric Bostic, a recent UCF commit, lined up with the defensive backs and wide receivers during one-on-one drills. Much more confident in his second year as a starting QB, Bostic makes his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame look larger than it did last year. He’s more vocal, supportive, and driven. He said he won’t play DB much during the season, unless it’s a big game or an important series. “Like Glades Day,” he said. “I want to play every second of that game.”
Like all his teammates and coaches, he’s focusing on their Sept. 23 “home game” against Glades Day, to be played at John I. Leonard High. Though a kickoff classic against Pahokee looms on Aug. 26, it’s not too early for them to focus on their division rival. A loss could doom for the Eagles’ playoff chances. “We’re always thinking about Glades Day,” coach Bill Powers said. “That game pretty much makes our season.”
The Eagles have the experience to compete with the rest of District 7-2A. Bostic and four athletic receivers – seniors Isaiah Nelson (5-11, 170) and Austin Talbott (5-10, 165), junior Ben Yetman (6-3, 175) and sophomore Nate Dailey (5-10, 165) – have as much quick-strike ability as any offense in the area. They comprise the secondary as well. The two-way line features big, tough center Kyle Knopp (6-2, 255) and tackles Ryan Marsh (6-2, 215) and Taylor Heinz (6-7, 225). Senior kicker John Denzik (6-3, 175) showed range of more than 50 yards. The question marks are at the linebacker, new for a program that has sent five linebackers to Div. I or prep schools in the last five years.
“I think we’re going to be very dynamic offensively,” Powers said. “As long as we stay healthy. Defensively, we’re going to be better. We’re going to be a work in progress.”
Powers thundered his stern, New Jersey-tinged commands over the practice, lashing at one receiver for “laziness” after the player failed to assume the proper pre-snap ready stance. Practice wasn’t all business, though.
There were plenty of laughs toward the end of practice during pursuit drills, which called for every defensive player touch the ballcarrier on a sweep to the edge. That meant Heinz, a giant, lanky tackle, had to chase a 5-9 running back around the practice field until he laid a hand on him. Afterward, the big man (and other big men like him) caught his breath as his teammates howled. Part of being 6-7, Heinz said, is smaller guys talking smack. “Yes,” he said. “Constantly.”
PALM BEACH GARDENS – Dwyer‘s afternoon session got off to a slow start. It wasn’t the rain, which had slowed to a just-enough-to-be-annoying sprinkle; it was the absence of head coach Jack Daniels, who visited the doctor after leading 55 varsity players in the morning. “Couple herniated discs in my neck,” he said, after arriving 20 minutes late for the 4 p.m. session.
Coming off a 12-2 season and state semifinal appearance, this year’s Panthers team has plenty of talent and the confidence to go with it. Every position group has big-time players: senior Patrick Miller is much quicker than a 6-foot-7, 280-pound left tackle should be; junior defensive end Malik Brown (6-3, 215) fits the same description; senior defensive tackle Mike Minns (6-0, 290) threw around opposing teammates in spring practices; linebacker Gage Batten (6-1, 230) is learning how to play fullback; senior quarterback Faton Bauta (6-3, 225) is built like a linebacker; senior wide receiver Julian Whigham (6-2, 175) leaps like a deer and wears size XXXL gloves; sophomore receivers Clint Stephens (5-10, 170) and Johnnie Dixon (5-11, 175) have mid-4.4 speed, as does junior running back Cortney Lowery (5-9, 170); right now, senior kicker Bobby Puyol (6-0, 175) is the area’s best.
Some standouts played here as freshmen, some recently transferred in. As constituted, this group has potential for a state title and will be the team opponents love to loathe. Two huge matchups await – a kickoff classic against defending Class 6A state champion Miami Central and a rumble in the Muck at Glades Central, a game between the area’s two premier programs. That’s a long way off, as is the stretch of District 13-7A games from Week 4 on, as is a potential playoff matchup with a Broward powerhouse like St. Thomas Aquinas, as is the beehive of college coaches that develops on campus as national signing day nears. Here, the August air is thick with expectation of excellence and championship hope runs off their navy helmets.
RIVIERA BEACH – By the end of the first day of fall football practice, the heat was off.
It was off the backs of 40 Suncoast players; low, late-afternoon clouds left the temperature a cool 81 degrees in north county. It was also off the back of their coach, Jessie Hester, but it’s been that way since he took over the program.
After three years coaching in a cauldron at Glades Central, Hester is relieved to be coaching somewhere else. He loves the passion around his alma mater, he said, but feeling like he had to answer to dozens of assistant coaches wore him out. Suncoast players are ready for an experienced coach who can teach them the finer points of the game, and Hester is ready to focus on football again.
“No questions, no headaches,” Hester said. “Just come out and coach, and go home. We want the support, but all that other stuff we can do without.”
Hester brings his calm hand to a senior-laden offense. Senior quarterback Jesse Hap (5-11, 175) put lots of zip on the ball and could benefit greatly from Hester’s knowledge of the passing game. He has three talented senior receivers: strong, balanced split end Javonta Taylor (6-1, 200), sure-handed tight end Malcolm Sommons (6-1, 195) and deep threat Antwan Wright (5-10, 170), a state-level sprinter and hurdler learning how to harness his speed. Running back James Huggins (5-9, 190) runs low and has 1,000-yard potential with an improved passing game around him. The line has sized with senior Jermiah Wilder (6-4, 320), at left guard; junior Gary Scott (6-4, 240) at left tackle and sophomore Matthew Weiner (6-3, 260) at right tackle. The line especially needs a confidence boost after last year’s 3-7 season. “We’re trying to fight the old history the kids have of losing,” Hester said. “We’ve got to get these kids in the frame of mind that they can win every game this year.”
The defense looks to be in that mindset already. Two of the area’s best defensive backs roam the secondary – strong safety Davison Colimon (6-1, 200) and cornerback Abiade Granger (5-11, 180), both seniors and state-level track athletes. They complement each other perfectly: Colimon, an intense, hard-hitting patrolman who will move to outside linebacker and defensive end as needed; Granger, a rangy ballhawk who shuts down his assignment. Senior cornerback Cody Jackson (5-9, 160) and senior free safety Casey Williams (6-1, 180), a converted basketball player, round out the secondary. Junior defensive tackle Ketyrus Marks (6-1, 280) will draw plenty of double-teams.
In scrimmage plays, the defense made several interceptions and was on several occasions thisclose to laying out their offensive teammates with would-be highlight-reel hits. They were hungry for sacks, picks and pressure.
The wrong idea, Hester told them afterward.
“You’ve got to learn how to practice,” he chided them, explaining that without pads, the offense could do little to protect its quarterback, making the defensive rush potentially dangerous. “It’s got to be controlled. We don’t have numbers. Someone goes down, that hurts us bad. Be smart. The QB throws, and someone’s right on his arm; this ain’t the offense you’re learning how to beat. Defensive line: with no pads, you step to your assignments.
“Real good effort, real good energy, but you defensive guys have got to learn how to practice.”
Heads nodded as the lesson washed over them. The new coach was completely in control, and the team was much better for it.