Posted: 2:07 pm Monday, August 5th, 2013
By Jeff Greer
Today marked the first official day of the 2013 football season, though we all know teams have been preparing for the first day of practice since last December.
Here are some practice notes from around Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.
Raiders coach Roosevelt Blackmon returns seven offensive starters and the usual laundry list of Division I prospects. That, plus possibly the most challenging schedule in the state, makes Glades Central one of the area’s most intriguing teams this fall.
Blackmon put American Heritage, Pompano Beach-Blanche Ely, Dwyer, Palm Beach Central, Palm Beach Gardens and state powerhouse Miami Northwestern on his schedule, in addition to the annual Muck Bowl against Pahokee. Central also has defending state champ Fort Lauderdale-University in its district.
“You know us: Let’s line ‘em up and play,” Blackmon said. “We will play anyone. To be the best you have to beat the best.”
Central took a different approach to the offseason than years past, focusing more on team camps than the regular run of 7-on-7 tournaments. The Raiders attended three afternoon sessions at FAU’s camp this summer.
“It starts in the trenches,” Blackmon said. “I don’t care about 7-on-7. We have enough of that talent here to know we can do that. We want to work on becoming a team and playing real football.”
Offensive coordinator Lee Brown is now running the offense after spending much of the spring shuttling back and forth between Belle Glade and his former job at Leesburg. Brown starts his new Glades Central gig with seven returning starters from an offense that struggled with consistency last season. The plus side? Four of Central’s five starting linemen are back, including Adrian Henry (6-2, 260) and Jashaun Seider (6-4, 260).
Junior Giovanni Lugo steps in as starting quarterback and will continue his kicking and punting duties. John I. Leonard transfer Jerry Jones, who’s committed to FAU, slides into the starting running back role out of Glades Central’s shotgun spread offense. As would be expected at Central, the receiving corps is jam-packed with speed and versatility. Jonathon Istache (5-9, 170) and Ronquavion Tarver (6-4, 215), two of Central’s leading receivers last season, are back as the team’s top options this fall.
“They have all stepped up big time,” Lugo said of his receivers. “They’re as good as the ones last year if not better.”
While Central’s defense only gets three starters back from the Raiders’ strong 2012 unit, there’s enough talent to assume they’ll pick up where the old regulars left off. Akron commit Bernard Willingham will start at one cornerback position, and Devante Seabrook (5-9, 175) should man the nickel back spot.
At defensive end, 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior Steven Leggett is expected to be a pass-rushing force with Division I potential. Defensive tackle Jacoby Blackmon (6-2, 250) will be charged with clogging the middle in Central’s 4-3 front.
“We’re trying to create a program atmosphere here and it’s coming together in Year 3,” Blackmon said. “We have new equipment. We’ve had our offensive coordinator in place now all summer. We are flying under the radar, I think, and we feel good about that.”
The word “championship” has come out of retirement at Pahokee, a program with six state titles to its name.
It’s hard to believe the Blue Devils could even consider a run at state after the past three seasons, which saw them falter to a 9-20 record. But coach Blaze Thompson has a group stocked with speed and skill.
“We really like what we have,” Thompson said. “We like our 11 against anybody else’s 11.”
The hope starts with a batch of seniors. As usual, none of them has a set position.
Rashaun Croney, who has scholarship offers from Marshall and South Carolina, will play receiver and quarterback. Derry Brown, Jonathan Jordan, Anton Paige, Jay Hopson and Dontrell Johnson will all play roles, as will juniors Jason Johnson and Demetrius McFadden.
Thompson said his team will spend the next two weeks working mostly on blocking and running plays after spending the summer playing 7-on-7 ball.
About 45 minutes in, the school’s lightning alarm interrupted practice and sent the Blue Devils back into their locker room, but even the slight drizzle in Pahokee couldn’t dampen the team’s noticeable excitement.
— JEFF GREER
The Hawks’ learning curve isn’t steep. Despite head coach Matt Dickmann and lead assistant Justin Hilliker stepping aside, Ridge has all but one other coach returning from Dickmann’s 2012 staff.
Barnwell, charged with continuing Ridge’s recent run of success, inherits a talented roster.
“At this point we’re just implementing a few things and fine-tuning,” Barnwell said.
Starting quarterback Zach DeCosta is back, a year older and wiser after unexpectedly becoming the starter last fall. He’ll have receiver Pernel Rattray back, too. Running back EJ Elien will be the leader of the offense, a year after running for 805 yards.
On defense, Seminole Ridge shouldn’t miss a beat. Junior cornerback Jalen Young already has scholarship offers from West Virginia, Marshall and several other programs, and fellow corner Isaac Esson started last year opposite Young.
“Our biggest battle is at linebacker,” Barnwell said, “and it’s a good battle to have.”
Seminole Ridge starts the 2013 season with high expectations. The Hawks have their usual District 9-8A rivalry with Palm Beach Gardens, and they’re lumped in with Palm Beach Central and Park Vista as serious contenders to make a deep playoff run.
— JEFF GREER
BOYNTON BEACH — On a practice field adjacent to the stadium at Park Vista High School, eighth-year head coach Brian Dodds guided his Cobras through conditioning drills and game simulations during Monday’s opening 7:30 a.m. practice.
“We’re not just going to run today,” he said. “We’re not one of those schools. We practice. These kids know what they’re doing. We’ll go until around 10 a.m., run some plays, review things, and pick right up where we left off from our spring game.”
That May 24 contest was a 29-0 rout of Atlantic on the Eagles’ home field, yet Dodds came away less than satisfied.
“We were OK,” Dodds said of the win.
The Cobras have averaged eight wins per season in the past three years, but the perennial District 10-8A power has a challenging 2013 schedule that includes Palm Beach Gardens, district rival Palm Beach Central, and an Aug. 30 opener at Colerain in Ohio.
Monday’s early preparations included stretches and short tosses by backs and receivers including quarterback Qwad Martin, running back/wideout Emmanuel Smith, and safety Marques Gayot. All are seniors, starters, and leaders. Gayot has committed to Louisville.
— BILL MEREDITH
LANTANA — There was a sense of guarded optimism at Santaluces Stadium as the Chiefs opened their 2013 season with an 8 a.m. practice.
After going 2-8 in 2011, the Chiefs improved to 5-4 last season under coach Darryl Drinkwater.
Drinkwater said Monday’s practice would include a lot of running, talking and reviewing.
“It’s the same every year on the first day of practice,” said Drinkwater, who enters his fifth season as coach of the Chiefs.
Early on, Drinkwater had his assistant coaches and team captains lead players through stretches and short jogs as music blared from the stadium speakers. Quarterbacks practiced dropbacks, and wide receivers, including University of Miami-signee Darrell Langham, played catch.
“He’ll definitely be one of the keys to our offense,” Drinkwater said of Langham.
The Chiefs face a challenging schedule that includes Seminole Ridge and strong District 10-8A rivals Park Vista and Palm Beach Central.
— BILL MEREDITH
Palm Beach Central
WELLINGTON — Palm Beach Central football opened fall practice with plenty of confidence and excitement abound. Broncos coach Rod Harris said right now it’s all about getting fundamentally sound and getting back to the basics before the start of the season.
“We had a great first practice. They’ve been working hard and they’re pretty excited about the season,” he said. “It’s a long offseason from January to August, so everyone’s pretty excited to get out here and get into the season.”
Transfer quarterback Luis Peguero will battle last year’s starter, Kevin Bramhall, who led the Broncos to six consecutive victories last season.
“They’re competing as teammates and the team is rallying behind both of them,” Harris said. “They’re both right there in the quarterback battle.”
On defense, Central returns seven starters which contributes to Harris’ optimism.
“It’s really turned around the last few years,” he said. “We made two straight playoffs, but if you keep looking in the past, you become unproductive. We’re looking to the future right now and seeing if we can build off last year and go any farther.”
— ALYSSA BARBIERI
WELLINGTON – For second-year Wellington coach Tom Abel, the first day of fall practice was everything a normal first day should be. But he recognized the difference between his inaugural opening day last year and what he experienced Monday.
“The biggest change is that we have a huge freshmen class that’s coming in,” he said. “We have a lot of good skill players, a good offensive line and it’s a different atmosphere because they know what to expect. My goals are high and so are theirs.”
After starting last season 3-0, Wellington dropped their final seven games. Abel said it was something that he discussed with his coaching staff. The key for his team this season will be establishing consistency.
“We have to make sure they understand that winning is tough,” he said. “To stay on top, you have to work hard and work tough every practice.”
Abel said one of the Wolverines’ strengths is its senior leadership.
“They’ve been in the program for a long time,” he said. “I’ve only had them for two years as a head coach. They want to go out on top.”
“We just have to be successful by getting better day-by-day and putting in the time, effort and commitment. We’re looking at getting better day-by-day and winning more games.”
— ALYSSA BARBIERI
Palm Beach Gardens
At 4 p.m., Palm Beach Gardens coach Rob Freeman saw a threatening sky and pulled his team indoors for its first workout.
“I’m not going to mess with it,” Freeman said.
Gardens’ schedule is stormy, too. The Gators have to get through district power Seminole Ridge and tackle a non-league schedule that includes Glades Central, Vero Beach, Palm Beach Central and Park Vista, and for the first time in two years, take a swing at traditional rival Dwyer.
“These kids come from a lot of the same neighborhoods,” Freeman said. “I’m glad we’re playing them. It’s good for the community.”
Gardens opened up with 127 players, including freshmen, the most in Freeman’s three seasons as coach. Of the five returning defensive and three returning offensive starters, the key is senior quarterback J.P. Caruso, the signal-caller since his sophomore year. “He’s become an encourager,” Freeman said, when asked about the quarterback’s improved leadership. Caruso, who committed to Appalachian State over the summer, showed it as he saw one of his teammates.
Junior Tevon Coney, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker, last month received his first verbal scholarship offer. Caruso saw him in the hall and happily grabbed his shoulders. “My dog,” he shouted, before telling Coney how proud he was of him.
— MATT PORTER
PALM BEACH GARDENS — A few minutes’ drive up Military Trail, rain pounded Dwyer’s campus as practice was set to begin. The offense retreated to study film in a portable classroom, while the defense organized its own practice in the gym.
Both units will be loaded. The offense features junior quarterback Daniel Parr, highly recruited senior receivers Johnnie Dixon, Clint Stephens and Ezra Saffold, tough senior running back Alonso Smith and a big line featuring 6-1, 285-pound center Jordan Sylvestre and 6-foot-2, 280-pound tackle Daikwon Fuse.
On defense, fierce ends Tim Jackson (6-1, 245) and Mark Kelly (6-1, 230) are paired with widebody tackles. Smart, versatile linebackers roam in from of a deep cast of defensive backs. Dwyer will beat some teams in their district with ease.
If the Panthers have an issue, it could be depth, which is why players like running back Cornelius Smith, a 5-11, 205-pound sophomore – “He’s a man,” Daniels said – and junior cornerback Jarius Adams will need to step up. However, if they stay healthy, they have the team to make a run to state.
But Daniels knows, and will spend the better part of this month telling them, that state is a long way off. He needs them to act like champions, not “high school kids thinking they’re better than everybody, thinking people are going to hand everything to them,” Daniels said. “They’d better come to work.”
— MATT PORTER
Pitts started the 2013 season with some bad news: Returning quarterback Josh Carr has left Glades Day. But Pitts said his team will turn its attention to a wing-T offense predicated on running the ball.
Like Seminole Ridge, Glades Day retained most of its coaching staff despite the departure of Walker. Plus, a familiar face is back in former head coach Craig Dobson, who’s coaching the linemen.
“Everybody’s got to chip in,” Pitts said. “We want to stay consistent to winning and play hard. (Taylor) comes along once in a lifetime. We have to move on.”
— JEFF GREER
LAKE WORTH — After finishing a disappointing 1-9 last season, Lake Worth opened practice for the 2013 season with hope for the future.
Much of the optimism comes from first-year head coach Jessie Hester, who took on the coaching role to go along with his athletic director duties at the school.
A former standout wide receiver at Glades Central, Florida State and with four teams during an 11-year NFL career, Hester coached Glades Central to a 36-4 record from 2008-2010. He led the Raiders to the playoffs all three seasons and to two state championship berths.
Hester, who coached Suncoast to a 3-7 record in 2011 before taking the AD job at Lake Worth, has been known to run strict, grueling early practices. He has softened his approach this year.
“It’s not as intense now,” Hester said before practice. “There will still be lots of running, but also some ball handling and simulated plays. And no contact for our first three days of practice.”
One of Hester’s challenges will be to replace last year’s starting quarterback, Luis Peguero, who transferred to Palm Beach Central.
“Our competition at quarterback is wide open,” Hester said.
Assistant coach Alex Locker, a Lake Worth High grad who will help coach the offensive line, believes the school’s program will quickly turn around.
“We’re already looking better,” he said. “Coach Hester has some amazing offensive schemes. We’ll win some games.”
— BILL MEREDITH
John I. Leonard
Ominous clouds and rain dotted Greenacres Monday afternoon, perhaps proving Wayne Monroe clairvoyant. The Lancers’ head coach already had scheduled the team’s opening practice indoors.
As the offensive line and its coaches met in the weight room, Monroe and defensive assistants diagrammed schemes on a board in a classroom, and blocked them out personally for emphasis for players.
“Don’t over-pursue and give up a lane,” said Monroe, in his seventh season as coach of the Lancers. “We don’t need you to be a hero. That’ll put you on the bench.”
The emphasis on defense may indicate that Monroe and his staff are more set on offense, even with the graduation of standout quarterback Adam Johnson, who led the Lancers in passing and rushing last season.
That’s because the Lancers have standout junior receiver Tavares Martin. Martin caught 46 passes for 860 yards (which led all area large schools) and scored five touchdowns last season.
ESPN has Martin ranked as the 16th-best wideout nationally and its 18th-best Florida overall prospect. He’s already received verbal scholarship offers from Florida, Florida State, Michigan State, South Carolina and Wake Forest.
Versatile and athletic, Martin also played quarterback in Leonard’s 27-17 win over Cardinal Newman in the school’s spring game, getting additional looks from Georgia, Texas A&M, and Illinois.
— BILL MEREDITH