Posted: 10:27 am Monday, August 6th, 2012
Day 1 of 2012 high school football practice: The Glades, Royal Palm Beach, Wellington, Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, Dwyer, Palm Beach Central, Seminole Ridge, Wellington, Pahokee
By Post Staff
BELLE GLADE — While rain on the first day of practice may not directly improve his team, Glades Central coach Roosevelt Blackmon figured it wouldn’t hurt.
“You catch it when it’s wet, you’re gonna catch it when it’s dry,” he shouted at a receiver who dropped a soggy ball during a passing drill.
Blackmon got in the ear of many of the 76 players on the back practice field at Glades Central for a 9 a.m. start. They ran through positional drills and returned kickoffs. One drill had Blackmon pounding repeatedly on a ball carried by a running back. “High and tight,” he repeated with every thump.
Expectations, as always, are high for this team. The Raiders have new faces at quarterback, where Royal Palm Beach transfer T.J. Abrams and sophomore Giovanni Lugo lead a pack of hopefuls. On defense, they replace graduated standouts at linebacker and the secondary, but they have do-everything senior Will Likely anchoring the deep coverage.
Overall, they’re young and untested, but that doesn’t usually stop Glades Central from winning. This group seems to understand how things are done here.
“They were feeling what I was saying,” Blackmon said of a pre-practice meeting with his players. “Let’s grow as a team.”–Matt Porter
Across town, 40 Glades Day players returned to the practice field after what coach Pete Walker called “the best workouts we’ve had here in four our five years.”
Star tailback Kelvin Taylor, aiming for a state championship in his senior season, has a host of new teammates. Taylor will get to know a center from South Fork, a tight end from Moore Haven, a cornerback from LaBelle, two receivers from Glades Central and a linebacker from North Carolina. Whether they become recognizable through their on-field accomplishments remains to be seen.
The Gators should be better up front, better on defense and deeper than they were last season. They also have Taylor, the nation’s top-rated running back and a Florida commit, in the backfield. He reported at a chiseled 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds and was active on Monday, patting helmets and coaching teammates through drills when he wasn’t carrying the ball.
Walker is excited about his team’s potential. He’s also quick to temper the enthusiasm. Monday morning, he made an example of 16-year-old U.S. Olympic Team gymnast McKayla Maroney. The was the overwhelming favorite in Sunday’s women’s vault, Maroney fell and settled for second.
“She had the potential. Everybody already gave her the gold medal, and she fell on her butt,” Walker said. “I’m not criticizing her, but just making the point: nothing’s a shoo-in for anybody.”–Matt Porter
ROYAL PALM BEACH — Royal Palm Beach coach Willie Bueno was hit with few surprises on opening day. He ran his practice in the school’s gym, so none of his 45 players touched a ball, but the session was smooth and productive.
“We’ve been working since January. The guys have a pretty good idea of what we’re doing,” Bueno said. “We’ve got everything in. We feel good with what we’ve got.”
Last year, when he was teaching his players to bring a full effort every practice. They showed up on Monday in shape and looking ready to challenge for another District 13-7A playoff spot.
“If we stay healthy, I think we’ve got a chance to compete and be right there at the end,” Bueno said.
Senior quarterback Ant McGrew looks “like a different guy,” Bueno said. “I think he has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks in the county.” Sophomore Charles Perry, a 6-foot-2, 200-pouund transfer from Cardinal Newman, will play running back and safety. Sophomore Demarcus Holloway, who had 175 yards in the spring game, will compete for carries with Perry. Senior JoJo Williams (6-3, 206) will be the Wildcats’ top receiver. There’s experience on the lines and all over the defense.
The players are raring to go, especially since an Aug. 24 kickoff classic at Glades Central looms. That’s a game that means nothing in the standings but everything in bragging rights.
“They want an opportunity to play them,” Bueno said. “There’s a lot of things we’ve got to do yet before that.”–Matt Porter
PALM BEACH GARDENS — It only took 10 minutes into the first fall practice for Dwyer coach Jack Daniels to surprise the small gathering of media taking in the Panthers’ afternoon session.
“I think our defense could be the best we’ve ever had on the field, which is saying a lot,” said Daniels, who’s coached several starting Division I defensive players, such as Matt Elam at Florida and Curt Maggitt at Tennessee. “Right now we’ve got enough good players, we’re not playing guys on both sides of the ball.”
Looking further into his team’s defense, and the statement isn’t that grandiose. The Panthers allowed only 110 points in 14 games, posting five shutouts in the process. Daniels returns eight starters from that group, including several vastly improved players, like defensive end Malik Brown, linebackers Shawn Boone and Jarred Brown and cornerbacks DeAndre Bozeman and Jonathan Moxey. Toss in impressive safety Alonso Smith and Clint Stephens, who does most of his damage at wide receiver.
The questions surrounding this Dwyer team, which is once again considered a serious state-title contender, circled around the quarterbacks. Both Clay Meister and Rob Nittolo played well in Dwyer’s 43-26 spring-game win against Fort Pierce Central, and neither gained any traction over the summer, despite multiple seven-on-seven tournaments and Tuesday-Thursday throwing sessions.
“They’re content on sharing it,” Daniels said. “Maybe they’re not saying they’re not, but nobody’s taken it yet. We’d obviously like someone to step up in fall camp and win the job.”
But regardless of the starter, they’ll have serious weapons on offense. Stephens and fellow junior Johnnie Dixon are two of the best receivers in Florida high school football, and returning running back Cortney Lowery gives Dwyer a punishing-yet-speedy back to mix up the offense. Daniels also said Ezra Saffold, a speed demon who helps Dwyer at receiver and on special teams, could have a breakout season.
“Ezra’s continued his run of good play, he’s had a phenomenal summer,” Daniels said. “He’s going to be one of the breakout players in the area. Clint and Johnnie, everybody knows about those guys.”
Dwyer will spend the remainder of this week studying spread and wing-T offenses in preparation for Miami Central, Glades Central and Seminole Ridge, among other early-season opponents. It’s the first time the linemen and skill-position players have been together since the spring, meaning Daniels expects a lot of progress in a short period of time. One thing’s for sure, the talent’s pretty much taken care of.–Jeff Greer
JUPITER — It was an off-season of change for Jupiter, which saw its longtime head coach Charlie Persson retire and four-year starting quarterback Tyler Cameron move on to Wake Forest. The Warriors even have new equipment.
But the transition to new head coach Doug Uccelini has been a seamless one, even with only seven players with game experience returning to the roster.
“We got right to work in the weight room. Since I’d been here, it was what we were doing anyway,” said Uccelini, who was defensive coordinator for a year under Persson and worked at Lake Worth before that. “I’ve been preparing for this a long time.”
Uccelini purchased new Riddell Speed helmets, which are the top-rated helmets in high school football, he said. He chose a matte green helmet with a black facemask. The kids love them; they look like Oregon gear.
In addition to the new face on the sideline and the new helmets on the kids, there will be a new signal caller for Jupiter for the first time in four years. Cameron amassed serious stats over his four years, but the four quarterbacks vying to replace him are so caught up in the quarterback competition that they haven’t had time to consider the shoes they’re filling, Uccelini said. Juniors Steve DeMeo and Griffin Garland are the top contenders for the job.
“They both do things we like, but we’re looking to make that decision in the next couple weeks,” Uccelini said. “They’re both extremely versatile kids, so we can put them elsewhere, too. That’s what a lot of our kids have this year — versatility.”
Receiver/cornerback Josh Brooks and two-way lineman Leroy Johnson have stood out to Uccelini this off-season as senior leaders, and he’ll rely on that duo and the other more experienced players to help Jupiter overcome its 27 graduated seniors from the 2011 squad.
“We expect to win the games on our schedule,” Uccelini said. “We are putting in a new philosophy and working every single day with our kids to get better. It’s a process, but we feel really good with this group.”–Jeff Greer
PALM BEACH GARDENS — Monday’s practice was cut short at Palm Beach Gardens after weather threatened the area for much of the day, but the slow start shouldn’t hurt the Gators too much. First-year coach Rob Freeman returns 14 starters to his team, including seven on an offense that led Gardens to a Class 8A regional final.
That offensive group includes quarterback JP Caruso, tight end Caleb Perez, speedster receiver Frank Brown and four offensive linemen, which means Gardens could see an increasing number of pass plays after relying heavily on star running backs Roshard Burney and Alex Clark. But this week is about paperwork, conditioning and studying, Freeman said.
“We obviously lost some heavy firepower, but we have guys who are ready to step up,” said Freeman, who replaced Chris Davis after three seasons as his defensive coordinator.
Weather-permitting, Freeman plans to get a better feel for what he has as the week wears on, but the familiarity with many of his players helps already.
“We’ll be fine,” Freeman said. “We’ve taken the strides I’ve expected.”–Jeff Greer
LOXAHATCHEE – Seminole Ridge won its first district title in 2010 and repeated last year, going 9-2 record and reaching the regional semifinals.
The Hawks look primed to take another step this year, but coach Matt Dickmann was blunt in his assessment: “We’re not in shape. We look good on paper. But that don’t mean nothing when you get the pads on.”
On the expansive fields beside the school, 86 players broke into groups and ran drills. The Hawks’ top skill players ran through the offensive playbook while Dickmann called out plays at a high tempo.
Senior running backs Elie Turene and Silas Spearman, junior back E.J. Elien and senior receiver Rayfield Dixon looked ready for action. Senior cornerback Omar Pierre-Louis, defensive tackle Kyle Shortridge and defensive end Jason Shepherd took reps with a first-team offense that included junior quarterback Zach DeCosta, who has the edge in that position battle.
This summer, Dickmann brought his team to Central Florida camp and ran a team camp at Seminole Ridge with coaches from Carnegie Mellon, which runs the same offense as the Hawks. They reviewed the playbook Monday morning and hit the field with gusto. “We got a lot done,” Dickmann said. –Matt Porter
WELLINGTON – Just when the weather had cleared and it was time to trade umbrellas for sunscreen, a late-afternoon storm soaked western Palm Beach County and chased Palm Beach Central from its practice field.
The early end of practice messed with the Broncos’ routine, but Central knows it has plenty of talent among the 160 players who showed up for the first day.
Start with one of the best backfields in the area, with seniors Lloyd Howard and Ray Wilson and junior Tommy McDonald, running behind a monstrous line. Junior Kc McDermott, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound left tackle, could be the best offensive tackle prospect in next year’s recruiting class. Right tackle Nickedel Pierre, who transferred from Santaluces, is a new player, having dropped 30 pounds from his 6-3, 310-pound frame. There’s a quarterback battle between senior Kyle Shafer and junior Brad Stein.
The big question is on defense, where Central was inconsistent even with three Division I players, who have since graduated. Former Suncoast and Glades Central defensive coordinator Tony Smith was hired to help.
Palm Beach Central was 7-3 and reached the regional quarterfinals, a playoff appearance that was “like getting King Kong off this program’s back,” coach Rod Harris said.
This year, the Broncos want to host a home playoff game – and win it. “We just want to build off last year,” Harris said. “Our goal is better than 7-3, better than getting knocked out in the first round.” –Matt Porter
WELLINGTON — Thomas Abel came to Wellington with a plan. The first-year coach who replaced Chris Romano put it in place this off-season and spring, and it all seemed to fall into place as his players came back for the start of fall practice.
Wellington worked inside for most of the morning, but got outside once the sky cleared.
“There was a lot of learning and responsibility that we taught in the spring and that carried over,” Abel said. “We’ve got a lot of high expectations. We’re trying to build a family atmosphere here. We want to change the program and change the town in the process, and get people out here supporting Wellington High.”
The Wolverines played in the Heath Evans 7-on-7 tournament in June and participated in summer camps. That’s helped Abel instill a spread offense and an attacking defense with some chemistry. The offense will be run primarily out of the shotgun, with lots of option running involved. And while Abel didn’t want to divulge any names of standout players — “It’s not about a single player,” he said — he mentioned that his team was “loaded” at the skill positions.
The offensive and defensive lines, Abel said, would take some time to grow into their skin. It’s a young group, but the talent around them should help them grow and adapt as the season wears on.
“We’re going with our strengths,” Abel said. “We have big guys up front and we’ve got speed everywhere.” –Jeff Greer
Pahokee ran through a late-afternoon practice that was upbeat, if not a little shortened by the new rules that limit practice time.
“Everybody was there. We got pestered by the rain, but it was a good day of practice,” coach Blaze Thompson said. “Players were anxious to be back.”
The forever-strong Blue Devils went a disappointing 2-8 last year, but a strong young crop, including senior quarterback Derry Brown, junior receiver Anton Paige and junior running back Jonathan Jordan, has those around the program believing they won’t be down for long. Freshman lineman Amari Angram, at 6-foot-1 and 320 pounds, offers even more hope for the future.
Thompson said it’s too early to say much more than that, especially since a few starters need to get their grades in order before suiting up for action.
“I believe we’re better, skill-wise,” Thompson said. “The verdict is not yet in.” — Matt Porter