JACKSONVILLE - With a exodus of key players to transfer and a new head coach Clay High football is looking to return to the forefront of Clay County football.
At Thursday's Baker Sports Media Day, new coach Kyle Kennard, the former defensive coach for Clay under departer John Stilianou, senior quarterback Tre Griner and senior offensive guard Iziah Butler were optimistic that Clay will return to the fold of being a major player in area football.
"I think we will find out if the fire is back in the lineup when we hit the pads," said Kennard, who was attending his first Media Day. "I don't make projections, but they are working hard to be ready to go."
Clay loses standouts like Alex Maier and Joe Reed, both standout linebackers, to Fleming Island and Ridgeview; defensive tackle Derrick Mosley, to Ridgeview and freshman running back Bryce Hampton, to Ridgeview in summer transfer action within the county.
"We can only play with who shows up and not worry who went where," said Kennard. "These kids are working hard to turn things around."
Butler, a 5'-8", 170 pounder, prided himself as being part of the folklore of Blue Devil football where the offensive line has been legendary for nearly a decade with the likes of Jacob Conrad (Furman), Zach Baker (Duke), Michael Conrad (Ole Miss and Tyler Grimsley (Miami/South Alabama).
Butler noted returners Jordan McGill and Desiron Gantt as two key players on the front five.
"Gabe Hubbard is a center and we look to be faster, fitter with power," said Butler.
Griner, a three-year player at quarterback that has seen four head coaches in his four years, maintaines that he just keeps his nose to the grindstone to learn the offenses put in front of him.
"Coach Kennard brings a lot of fire and passion to the team and he wants us to believe that we are better than 1-9 last year," said Griner, who had season games in his end of year magic in close losses to Menendez (44-43) and Oakleaf (34-20). "I try to stay in focus no matter what is happening with the game."
Griner does have one of the best backs in the county who follows the footsteps of such notables as Aundre Carter (Idaho), Bilal Ally (Massachusetts) and Shannon Asbel (Ava Marie) with junior Al'Querious Ray set to assume the role of best back in the county. Ray is also seeing some spot time as a linebacker with Keith able to go to outside linebacker or safety if needed.
"Q is who is is, a powerback with Tristan Keith coming into the backfield after playing in the secondary last year and getting a little bigger and stronger," said Griner. "On the outside, Reed Waugh and De'Maurion Frazier are fast guys that can catch and run on pass plays."
Brandon Combs is also a speed back returning to the offense set and also able to play secondary.