GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Area high school football teams will be amping up their final month of preparation for the upcoming August 25 game one of 2023 with Clay County's gridders hosting three major …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Area high school football teams will be amping up their final month of preparation for the upcoming August 25 game one of 2023 with Clay County's gridders hosting three major players at quarterback and four unknown entities that could make big impact real fast.
For the knowns, Clay High's Merrick Rapoza, Fleming Island's Cibastian Broughton, both juniors, and Oakleaf's Brandon Wallace, Jr., a senior, the return to the line of scrimmage brings just one question.
With just one team making the region playoffs last year; a surprising move from first-year coach Ryan Wolfe at Middleburg, the likes of Clay, Fleming Island and Oakleaf, all historically playoff-bound teams that fell short last year, 2023 will be a mix of correcting the mistakes of last year with a veteran signal caller.
Broughton ignited the Fleming Island football world the previous two seasons on his watch with a scintillating late-season as a freshman that got the Golden Eagles into the second season, but key losses last year that kept the Golden Eagles home in November.
Even with an FSU-bound running back, Sam Singleton (1,015 yds., 12TDS); two Division I defenders; linebacker Abram Wright (Rutgers) and Jhace Edwards (Albany State), the Golden Eagles lost key games, including a home upset by Oakleaf in game four after a 3-0 start, that proved costly in the FHSAA playoff points rankings and stayed home in November.
In their key district 1-4S losses; 17-0 to Bartram Trail, 38-35 to Creekside and 49-35 to Buchholz, Broughton was unable to provide the historical late-season surge he had provided the previous season that put Fleming Island, then under departed coach Damenyum Springs, into two late season pseudo-playoff games against Creekside (9-3, region semi loss to Bartram Trail) and Buchholz, (4S Final Four finisher, beat Bartram Trail in region final) that could have propelled the Golden Eagles into regions with wins.
Unfortunately, Broughton will be facing the same teams, the same firepower as last year, in probably what will be the toughest district in Florida. Add Titusville (2S, 7-4) and Lake Minneola (Lost to state champion Lakeland; region 2-4S)for quality playoff points and new coach Chad Parker and his all-star sideline staff; Derek Chipoletti, Chris Otero, Evan Scharf and friends have the brain firepower to devise and win. Just execute.
For Wallace, with just four passes in six game appearances last year, his task will be to follow the entertaining ways of Drew Ammon last year with a handful of stat-rich games that unexpectedly turned into close losses and a 5-5 slate. Wallace will need to quickly implement a probable new scheme under new coach Chris Foy, the task of resurrecting the Oakleaf phoenix falls onto the shoulders of a guy who has the prototype physicality of a Cam Newton kind of player; able to run hard, throw bombs and play smart, game time is here. Wallace is a student of the game and if his retention of schemes connects to the tactics of Ammon's near wins, Oakleaf fans will breathe a sigh of relief.
Wallace, under Foy and young and aggressive O-Coach Devin Wilson, will be directing a strong upfront attack that Foy likes; big offensive linemen, big power running back (Chris Foy, II, 215 lbs.) and a quiet soccer-to-wide receiver guy that looks to be a secret weapon on the field.
Foy is a guy that likes destruction up front to open alleys on the corners and Wallace will be the key to exploiting the missteps of the defenses in front of him.
Of course, those defenses in front of him will be from the likes of District 1-4S as Fleming Island was stymied by as mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
Foy transformed Andrew Jackson High with seasons of 4-5, 7-4 and 8-3. Those numbers would be nice at Oakleaf, but the playoffs are the big pizza for Clay County fans. Chipoletti's region final finish in 2014 (12-1) was the pepperoni pizza year for Knights fans though Foy and Wallace orchestrating a few region playoff games may suffice in year one.
Rapoza is a seasoned football winner in his short-lived varsity life was coupled with a strong youth football run that included a couple of national tournament runs on talented teams.
Rapoza, 1438 Yds, 17TDs, also has the best pair of hands in Florida in wideout Payton Dykas (57 catches, 14TDs) and that may be his main Achilles Heel, 14 of 17 scores to the same guy. But the duo and coach Kyle Kennard will need the peripherals of offense to get Dykas downfield and Rapoza standing in on his throws.
Rapoza looks bigger and stronger this year and Kennard has a seasoned offensive line in front of him with senior running back Chandler Thomas a key to the offensive success.
Plus, Kennard, who revels in the Blue Devil traditions on the field, is unrelenting in bringing that back to Green Cove Springs.
Around the county, Ridgeview looks to go with basketball ace Travon Malone, a sophomore, who brings a big body into the mix that holsters a cannon arm. Ridgeview coach Bryan Arnette has a strong running back Rayhn "Train" Hutchinson with strongman Braylon Hawkins (250 pounds) sitting on the edge to protect, behind Malone and an improved offensive line that could put enough time in the pocket for Malone to go yard.
Keystone Heights has young Jackson Parmeter under center and the Indians under new coach Steve Reynolds may be widening their offensive attack to beyond the tackles.
Orange Park, over the Marcus Wimberly era thus far, has had its ups and down at quarterback with the plethora of wide receiver talent and speed, the best running back in north Florida at one time, but quarterbacks that just could not connect the dots. Sophomore Gabe Taylor is in the pocket now and Wimberly has maneuvered the scheme to bring success. Clay transfer Jaden Paulk, a utility wide receiver/quarterback may get the nod.
Back to Middleburg, where Jaydan Jenkins directed the Wolfe offense to enough playoff points to travel to Escambia, the Broncos will be looking to bank some momentum from Jenkins who has been placed as an X-back kind of player over summer months. Mason Zwilling, a transfer from Gainesville's Eastside High (and a lefty) has been in the slot for most of the summer and offers a different look for Wolfe to showcase.
Middleburg's latest newcomer Carson Stewart, a transfer quarterback from Fleming Island High who was behind Broughton, will be a 6'-1" athlete that may step in quickly.