GREEN COVE SPRINGS - With the departure of long-time coach and athletic director John Stilianou, the Clay High football program suffered its second major blow in just two years with assistant coach Kyle Kennard stepping in to cushion the blow and bring Blue Devil football back to historic levels. Long time head coach Joshua Hoekstra left two years ago to go to Bolles with Stilianou taking over last year and producing a tough 1-9 season that had spurts of Blue Devil football; a 44-43 loss to Menendez and a 34-20 loss to Oakleaf; both 7-3 finishers last year.
“It’s been tough at Clay High recently with the uncertainty of things and coaches making moves to new careers,” said Kennard, who had stints at Oakleaf and Fleming Island before landing in Clay last year. “Kids can be apprehensive when the coaching lineup is not set for a season and I’m hoping to fill some of the gaps.”
Kennard, with Stilianou announcing to the team on Monday that he would be stepping down to pursue an administration job at Middleburg High School, was asked by both Stilianou and Principal Cary Dicks to step in to keep the program moving forward. Clay also lost head wrestling coach and also an assistant football coach Hunter Hill to a job opportunity in Tennessee recently.
Kennard noting a jump in attendance for his second week of the summer sessions that have slowly evolved according to health safety protocols due to the Corona Virus.
“We had every kid in the program show up in the second week of this conditioning phase,” said Kennard, who helped coach, with Dana Arthur (now in Georgia), the Oakleaf High linebacker crew that included Jacksonville Jaguar draft pick Shaquille Quarterman. “I think there is a buy-in factor going on now, but the kids are enthused to have some stability.”
Kennard kept tabs on the kids during the shutdown, but understood that it would be tough to keep the team focused on the future when their seemed a lot of questions.
“We sent out weekly programs to keep the kids involved, but it’s tough to not have face-to-face interactions,” said Kennard. “The second week, obviously, was better as kids got to be part of the team. With the gyms being closed, not a lot to do about it and we saw some kids that probably didn’t do much.”
Kennard liked the leadership of returning quarterback Tre Griner and running back Al’Querious Ray as his offensive juggernaut duo with two linebackers; Joe Reed and Alex Maier, transferring out to new schools; Ridgeview and Fleming Island.
“Tre is going to be our focal point on offense with Al’Querious probably one of the top backs in the county,” said Kennard. “Those two linebackers were key players last year, but have dediced to move on to new programs. You can’t blame the kids for making decisions with all the uncertainty. We haven’t had a single transfer this week and I think the stability is helping; two head coaches in two years, is not stable.”