FLEMING ISLAND - With guys like Sam Singleton, JoJo Restall, T.J. Lane and Devin Outlaw graduating from their respective teams, area high school football will see a fresh face of quarterhorses intent …
FLEMING ISLAND - With guys like Sam Singleton, JoJo Restall, T.J. Lane and Devin Outlaw graduating from their respective teams, area high school football will see a fresh face of quarterhorses intent on punishing enemy defenses.
One of just two returning varsity running back with extensive game time last year is Ridgeview High senior Rayhn Hutchinson (215lbs.) who leads a cadre of ball carriers that seem heft, strong and fast a foot in open field.
Hutchinson was coach Bryan Arnette’s battering ram through an offensive line that was undersized at best and had most of yardage after initial contact.
“I try not to go down on the first contact hoping to get outside and put the jets on,” said Hutchinson, who, with expected action at linebacker, bulked up a bit more over the summer. “I worked a lot on my separation acceleration once through the line and, with our line a little bigger and a little more experienced, I want to finish with a big year for the team.”
The second guy who returns with high expectations in Keystone Heights, where the Indians used power running to finish 10-2 two years ago, but graduated the entire team to encore at 2-8, junior Cartez Daniels may be a guy who could emerge as the next great back as an Indian. Daniels, nearly 900 yards last year with a very green offensive line, sprouted to a 6’-1” frame with some bulk and, with a massive and little more experienced front line, could be the surprise of the season for Keystone Heights first-year head coach Steven Reynolds.
“He’s the real deal; size, strength and speed,” said Reynolds. “With a line with some experience, we could return to Keystone Heights-style running football.”
The rest of the county lineup is made up of runners with more expectations than accolade.
Fleming Island wowed the Middleburg Bronco defense with Tyler Beverly rocketing up and down the Middleburg High defense, but sat most games behind Singleton.
“This is my time and I think the coaches know what I can do,” said Beverly, a 4.5 40 sprinter who broke three long runs against Middleburg on a wet, sloppy turn and in rain sporadically. “We run basic up front power to open holes and once in, I can hit the pedal.”
For Fleming Island offensive coordinator Evan Scharf, who returns from a short hiatus from the Golden Eagle sidelines after seeing a handful of great runners for Fleming Island, Beverly impressed him with first all-out varsity start in May.
“Heck, he’s a state weightlifting champion and has speed,” said Scharf. “He’s not the big, but he can hit the line pretty hard.”
Clay High is looking to tough guy Chandler Thomas to make a dent in the Blue Devil offense that appears destined to rely on quarterback Merrick Rapoza hitting wideout Payton Dykas for most scoring plays.
“I’m the inside guy that hopefully can keep defenses honest up front,” said Chandler. “I get five, six yards on first down and we are in a good position to change games with the air attack.”
Thomas is not that big, but had success getting the crucial short-run first downs for coach Kyle Kennard with his drive. Clay will have a handful of speedy athletes in the backfield; Vonte Burke, Payton Dykas and others to allow Thomas to patrol the turf between the tackles.
Oakleaf’s heavy is 210-pounder Chris Foy, Jr., the smooth sliding bulk runner for dad and Oakleaf first-year coach Chris Foy. Foy has been impressive in his role as lead back and has shown a great pair of pass-catching hands out of the Knights backfield.
“And, he can motor,” said Foy. “His hands are a plus because he is smooth enough to make catches in full stride, then go one-on-one with smaller defensive backs downfield. That’s a mismatch we like.”
Orange Park graduated their three top runners; Restall, Kenneth Henderson and Elijah Craggette, and will be looking for the next power back in the Raider backfield. Orange Park always has the speed of Jermel Brown, track sub-11 second 100s as an option for coach Marcus Wimberly, but junior Damar Jackson is a linebacker-sized bruiser who put some nice licks on Ocoee’s defense in a good showing in the Raiders’ spring game. Wimberly also has former Clay wideout and utility player Jaden Paulk on his sideline and that adds a second element of the tackles.
At Middleburg, with All-Stater T.J. Lane and Micheal Mitchell at Utah in the college ranks, Bronco coach Ryan Wolfe is leaning toward putting his most explosive players; Jaydan Jenkins, Jaden Boyd and Errick Fryer in multiple backfield starts to use the speed of all three to make defenses commit to one, even two, but not three.
Last year, Wolfe had a somewhat surprising “Next man up” season with Lane (1986 YDs, 18TDs) when Mitchell only played in five games.
In 2023, there is no marquis power back for Wolfe but a stable of gazelles that, if free, will fly the field. With a seasoned offensive line that has size and girth, the fast dudes don’t need gigantic holes to rack up yards quickly.