Reports from first day of football practice from area schools
T.J. Abrams passes the ball during a drill on the first day of football practice at Glades Central. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)
Click here to see more photos or click the image above.
New Stallions head coach Stacey Sizemore didn’t have the luxury of taking it slow on the first day of practice Monday.
Despite a constant rain, Sizemore put the Stallions through a full practice knowing that one of the toughest early season schedules in the state is on the horizon.
“We have to take full advantage of the time of we have,” said Sizemore, who served as the Stallions’ defensive coordinaor a year ago and was promoted after Doug Socha resigned in June. “As long as we do that, we’ll be ready for what lies ahead.”
What lies ahead is a nationally televised showdown against state power Cocoa on Aug. 25. That ESPN matchup is followed by games with perennial powerhouse Seffner-Armwood and local rival Glades Central.
The early season tests led to more intensity than usual on the first day.
“Those games keep us focused because we know we’ve got to come out and play to our best abilities against those top teams.” star running back Greg Bryant said. “From here on out it’s all about hard work.”
Bryant was just one of several Stallions who spoke of how the schedule led to extra focus, among other things, on the first day.
That hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the new coach.
“This is a mature group with high expectations,” Sizemore said. “Every player is embracing the responsibility that comes with facing top-tier opponents.”
Eagles head coach Chris Bean began practice with one goal.
“I want this to be the best-conditioned team in the state,” Bean said.
Eighty-five players showed up for Atlantic and Bean put them through a rigorous practice that included 16 110-yard sprints prior to the players making any contact with each other.
“It was a conditioning day,” Bean said. We’re going to have about seven players going both ways so we can’t afford for anyone to be out of shape.”
The Eagles return a veteran team that features 28 seniors, including standout defensive lineman Keith Bryant.
Bean said that there is not a lot of open position battles going on, but that didn’t lessen the enthusiasm from the first day.
“It’s great; we have more guys than ever who can make plays and everyone out here was working extremely hard,” Bean said.
The one position that is up for grabs is probably the most important — quarterback.
“I’m not even going to name any names yet,” Bean said. “It’s going to take a lot more than one day to determine that job.”
Almost 80 players showed up for the first day of Bobcats’ practice, and coach Lewis Burnham said things went extremely well.
Burnham isn’t used to smooth sailing at Boca. He took over as head coach last season after Keith Byars was fired and led the Bobcats to a 3-4 finish.
Monday represented a fresh start.
“We have a lot of a new faces,” Burnham said. “More than that, we have a lot of new talent.”
One of those new faces was Brandon Taylor who transferred from Dade City and will start at outside linebacker for the Bobcats. Taylor was impressed and excited about the first day.
“It’s great getting out here and making contact and getting the groove,” Taylor said. “Coach runs a very organized practice and I think this team is loaded on both sides of the ball.”
Burnham said he thought the majority of the starting spots were locked up entering this fall, but that may have changed after the first day.
“There is really a lot of talent out there that is creating competition,” Burnham said.
Despite the influx of new talent, Burnham said Bobcat fans will probably be most excited about another feature from the first day.
“The wings are back on the helmet for the first time since 2005,” Burnham said. “From what I’ve seen and heard, the community is really excited about the return of the wings.”
The Crusaders hit the track for the first portion of their afternoon practice, as coach Steve Walsh timed his players in a dozen 100-yard sprints. Speed will be one of the team’s strengths, particularly on offense where senior running back Devonte Brown and junior wide receiver Travis Rudolph are scoring threats whenever they touch the ball.
Brown and Rudolph breezed through their 12 sprints, and even senior tight end Matt Burke, a Division I prospect, showed off a little speed. “I could have run some more,” Burke said during a water break following the speed workout.
Walsh said depth on the offensive line is his biggest concern entering the season, but he thinks the Crusaders have enough all-around talent to produce their third consecutive winning season.
“Our district is going to be tough, but I like our group, and we’re very talented on the perimeter,” Walsh said. “We had a good summer. (Monday) was more of an administrative day, but we’ll get after it tomorrow.”
Veteran coach Bill Ameral takes over as defensive coordinator and will implement a 4-4 defense this season.
It only took 10 minutes into the first fall practice for Dwyer coach Jack Daniels to surprise the small gathering of media taking in the Panthers’ afternoon session.
“I think our defense could be the best we’ve ever had on the field, which is saying a lot,” said Daniels, who’s coached several starting Division I defensive players, such as Matt Elam at Florida and Curt Maggitt at Tennessee. “Right now, we’ve got enough good players, we’re not playing guys on both sides of the ball.”
Looking further into his team’s defense, and the statement isn’t that grandiose. The Panthers allowed only 110 points in 14 games, posting five shutouts in the process. Daniels returns eight starters from that group, including several vastly improved players, like defensive end Malik Brown, linebackers Shawn Boone and Jarred Brown and cornerbacks DeAndre Bozeman and Jonathan Moxey. Toss in impressive safety Alonso Smith and Clint Stephens, who does most of his damage at wide receiver.
The questions surrounding this Dwyer team, which is once again considered a serious state-title contender, circled around the quarterbacks. Both Clay Meister and Rob Nittolo played well in Dwyer’s 43-26 spring-game win against Fort Pierce Central, and neither gained any traction during the summer, despite multiple seven-on-seven tournaments and Tuesday-Thursday throwing sessions.
“They’re content on sharing it,” Daniels said. “Maybe they’re not saying they’re not, but nobody’s taken it yet. We’d obviously like someone to step up in fall camp and win the job.”
But regardless of the starter, they’ll have serious weapons on offense. Stephens and fellow junior Johnnie Dixon are two of the best receivers in the state, and returning running back Cortney Lowery gives Dwyer a punishing-yet-speedy back to mix up the offense. Daniels also said Ezra Saffold, a speed demon who helps Dwyer at receiver and on special teams, could have a breakout season.
“Ezra’s continued his run of good play, he’s had a phenomenal summer,” Daniels said. “He’s going to be one of the breakout players in the area. Clint and Johnnie, everybody knows about those guys.”
Dwyer will spend the remainder of this week studying spread and wing-T offenses in preparation for Miami Central, Glades Central and Seminole Ridge, among other early season opponents. It’s the first time the linemen and skill-position players have been together since the spring, meaning Daniels expects a lot of progress in a short period of time. One thing’s for sure, the talent’s pretty much taken care of.
While rain on the first day of practice may not directly improve his team, Glades Central coach Roosevelt Blackmon figured it wouldn’t hurt.
Blackmon got in the ear of many of the 76 players on the back practice field at Glades Central for a 9 a.m. start. They ran through positional drills and returned kickoffs. One drill had Blackmon pounding repeatedly on a ball carried by a running back. “High and tight,” he repeated with every thump.
Expectations, as always, are high for this team. The Raiders have new faces at quarterback, where Royal Palm Beach transfer T.J. Abrams and sophomore Giovanni Lugo lead a pack of hopefuls. On defense, they replace graduated standouts at linebacker and the secondary, but they have do-everything senior Will Likely anchoring the deep coverage.
Overall, they’re young and untested, but that doesn’t usually stop Glades Central from winning.
“They were feeling what I was saying,” Blackmon said of a pre-practice meeting with his players. “Let’s grow as a team.”
Forty Glades Day players returned to the practice field after what coach Pete Walker called “the best workouts we’ve had here in four our five years.”
Star tailback Kelvin Taylor, aiming for a state championship in his senior season, has a host of new teammates. Taylor will get to know a center from South Fork, a tight end from Moore Haven, a cornerback from LaBelle, two receivers from Glades Central and a linebacker from North Carolina. Whether they become recognizable through their on-field accomplishments remains to be seen.
The Gators should be better up front, better on defense and deeper than they were last season. They also have Taylor, the nation’s top-rated running back and a Florida commit, in the backfield. He reported at a chiseled 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds and was active Monday, patting helmets and coaching teammates through drills when he wasn’t carrying the ball.
Walker is excited about his team’s potential. He’s also quick to temper the enthusiasm. Monday morning, he made an example of 16-year-old U.S. Olympic Team gymnast McKayla Maroney. The overwhelming favorite in Sunday’s women’s vault, Maroney fell and settled for second.
“She had the potential. Everybody already gave her the gold medal, and she fell on her butt,” Walker said. “I’m not criticizing her, but just making the point: nothing’s a shoo-in for anybody.”
JOHN I. LEONARD
Coach Wayne Monroe used the rainy weather as a practice tool, even though most of the heavy stuff had passed by the time the Lancers hit the field around 3 p.m.
“We’re going to get muddy,” Monroe said of the sloppy conditions. “They’ve got to learn how to play in it. And we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Lancers are coming off a 4-6 season after switching to a spread offense last year. Seniors Adam Johnson and Daniel Deshommes are battling for the starting quarterback job.
“It’s a dogfight between them,” Monroe said. “They both look like starters. They’re both very capable.”
Whoever wins the starting role at quarterback will have a potential star receiver to throw to in junior Jerry Jones.
An emphasis will be put on improving the defensive line play the next two weeks. “That’s one area I wish we had more size,” Monroe said.
It was an off-season of change for Jupiter, which saw its longtime head coach Charlie Persson retire and four-year starting quarterback Tyler Cameron move on to Wake Forest. The Warriors even have new equipment.
But the transition to new head coach Doug Uccelini has been a seamless one, even with only seven players with game experience returning to the roster.
“We got right to work in the weight room. Since I’d been here, it was what we were doing anyway,” said Uccelini, who was defensive coordinator for a year under Persson and worked at Lake Worth before that. “I’ve been preparing for this a long time.”
Uccelini purchased new Riddell Speed helmets, which are the top-rated helmets in high school football, he said. He chose a matte green helmet with a black facemask. The kids love them; they look like Oregon gear.
In addition to the new face on the sideline and the new helmets on the kids, there will be a new signal caller for Jupiter for the first time in four years. Cameron amassed serious stats during his four years, but the four quarterbacks vying to replace him are so caught up in the quarterback competition that they haven’t had time to consider the shoes they’re filling, Uccelini said. Juniors Steve DeMeo and Griffin Garland are the top contenders for the job.
“They both do things we like, but we’re looking to make that decision in the next couple weeks,” Uccelini said. “They’re both extremely versatile kids, so we can put them elsewhere, too. That’s what a lot of our kids have this year — versatility.”
Receiver/cornerback Josh Brooks and two-way lineman Leroy Johnson have stood out to Uccelini this off-season as senior leaders, and he’ll rely on that duo and the other more experienced players to help Jupiter overcome its 27 graduated seniors from the 2011 squad.
“We expect to win the games on our schedule,” Uccelini said. “We are putting in a new philosophy and working every single day with our kids to get better. It’s a process, but we feel really good with this group.”
New coach Heath Nivens was impressed with the Lions’ first workout despite lousy weather conditions.
“It wasn’t the best conditions, but you have to get used to it,” Nivens said. “We got a full workout in, and it was good to do something other than lift (weights) and run and 7-on-7s. Our guys did a good job of committing themselves to the weight room and conditioning this summer. The biggest thing for me was it was good to see the retention from what we put in during the spring.”
Nivens, who was the head coach at Jacksonville-University Christian the past five years before accepting the King’s Academy job after former coach Craig Dobson was forced to step down because of health issues, is installing a wing-T offense and said he plans to utilize senior quarterback A. J. Pasquale more this season.
Junior running backs James Holland and Garrett Larson shared the bulk of the rushing load during the morning session. They will have big shoes to fill with the graduation of All-Area running back Brian Grove.
“In our district, there’s no cupcakes. It might be the toughest in the state,” Nivens said of the Lions’ district that includes defending Class 3A state champion American Heritage.
Coach Errick Lowe canceled a planned morning walk-through because of rain, and instead held team indoor meetings for offense and defense.
“The kids asked a lot of questions and we were able to clarify some things,” Lowe said before heading out for an afternoon practice. “We got a lot accomplished despite the rain.”
The Trojans will have a new starting quarterback for the first time in four years. Sophomore Louis Peguero replaces talented Evan Moore, who graduated, and Lowe believes Peguero has progressed nicely since assuming the starting job in spring drills.
“This kid worked on his craft, his mechanics, his footwork every day during the off-season. He’s a workaholic,” Lowe said of the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Peguero, who will operate behind one of the county’s top-rated linemen in senior James Looney, who has 15 Division I offers.
Peguero will have two talented receivers to throw to in seniors Jermer Braswell and Richard Seraphin. “If we can stop some people (on defense), stop the run, we’ll be OK, because we’re going to be able to score,” Lowe said.
Pahokee ran through a late-afternoon practice that was upbeat, if not a little shortened by the new rules that limit practice time.
“Everybody was there. We got pestered by the rain, but it was a good day of practice,” coach Blaze Thompson said. “Players were anxious to be back.”
The traditionally strong Blue Devils went a disappointing 2-8 last year, but a strong young crop, including senior quarterback Derry Brown, junior receiver Anton Paige and junior running back Jonathan Jordan, has those around the program believing they won’t be down for long. Freshman lineman Amari Angram, at 6-foot-1 and 320 pounds, offers even more hope for the future.
Thompson said it’s too early to say much more than that, especially since a few starters need to get their grades in order before suiting up for action.
“I believe we’re better, skill-wise,” Thompson said. “The verdict is not yet in.”
PALM BEACH CENTRAL
Just when the weather had cleared and it was time to trade umbrellas for sunscreen, a late-afternoon storm soaked western Palm Beach County and chased Palm Beach Central from its practice field. The early end of practice messed with the Broncos’ routine, but Central knows it has plenty of talent among the 160 players who showed up for the first day.
Start with one of the best backfields in the area, with seniors Lloyd Howard and Ray Wilson and junior Tommy McDonald, running behind a monstrous line. Junior Kc McDermott, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound left tackle, could be the best offensive tackle prospect in next year’s recruiting class. Right tackle Nickedel Pierre, who transferred from Santaluces, is a new player, having dropped 30 pounds from his 6-3, 310-pound frame. There’s a quarterback battle between senior Kyle Shafer and junior Brad Stein.
The big question is on defense, where Central was inconsistent even with three Division I players, who have since graduated. Former Suncoast and Glades Central defensive coordinator Tony Smith was hired to help.
Palm Beach Central was 7-3 and reached the regional quarterfinals, a playoff appearance that was “like getting King Kong off this program’s back,” coach Rod Harris said. This year, the Broncos want to host a home playoff game — and win it.
“We just want to build off last year,” Harris said. “Our goal is better than 7-3, better than getting knocked out in the first round.”
PALM BEACH GARDENS
Monday’s practice was cut short at Palm Beach Gardens after weather threatened the area for much of the day, but the slow start shouldn’t hurt the Gators too much. First-year coach Rob Freeman returns 14 starters to his team, including seven on an offense that led Gardens to a Class 8A regional final.
That offensive group includes quarterback JP Caruso, tight end Caleb Perez, speedster receiver Frank Brown and four offensive linemen, which means Gardens could see an increasing number of pass plays after relying heavily on star running backs Roshard Burney and Alex Clark. But this week is about paperwork, conditioning and studying, Freeman said.
“We obviously lost some heavy firepower, but we have guys who are ready to step up,” said Freeman, who replaced Chris Davis after three seasons as his defensive coordinator.
Weather-permitting, Freeman plans to get a better feel for what he has as the week wears on, but the familiarity with many of his players helps already.
“We’ll be fine,” Freeman said. “We’ve taken the strides I’ve expected.”
Cobra coach Brian Dodds was happy with the first day turnout of roughly 130 players, but that excitement was dampened by the weather.
Dodds planned on putting his team through a three-and-a-half-hour practice session, but inclement weather cut the first day to just two hours.
“That certainly wasn’t what we were hoping for,” Dodds said. “I’m very schedule-orientated and with the new rules on practice times during the first week, we need to take advantage of all the time allowed.”
The main reason Dodds needs to make the most of his time is because he enters this season with all new starters on both his offensive and defensive lines lines.
“We had four starters from a year ago transfer out,” Dodds said. “The new starters have the potential to be good, but you never know how inexperience is going to play out on a Friday night.”
One thing that has worked in the Cobras’ favor is that the majority of the varsity squad spent three days practicing together at a camp in Central Florida during the summer.
“We had a great summer and as coaches we realize that this year is going to be a challenge and we embrace it,” Dodds said.
One player who will lessen that challenge is quarterback Qwad Martin. The dual-threat junior is the key part to what Dodds calls the fastest team he’s ever had.
Martin was one of many Cobra’s looking forward to a full first practice, but because of the weather they had to settle for what their coach called “more of a review day.”
ROYAL PALM BEACH
Royal Palm Beach coach Willie Bueno was hit with few surprises on opening day. He ran his practice in the school’s gym, so none of his 45 players touched a ball, but the session was smooth and productive.
“We’ve been working since January. The guys have a pretty good idea of what we’re doing,” Bueno said. “We’ve got everything in. We feel good with what we’ve got.”
Last year, when he was teaching his players to bring a full effort every practice. They showed up in shape and looking ready to challenge for another District 13-7A playoff spot.
“If we stay healthy, I think we’ve got a chance to compete and be right there at the end,” Bueno said.
Senior quarterback Ant McGrew looks “like a different guy,” Bueno said. “I think he has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks in the county.” Sophomore Charles Perry, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound transfer from Cardinal Newman, will play running back and safety. Sophomore Demarcus Holloway, who had 175 yards in the spring game, will compete for carries with Perry. Senior JoJo Williams (6-3, 206) will be the Wildcats’ top receiver. There’s experience on the lines and all over the defense.
The players are raring to go, especially since an Aug. 24 kickoff classic at Glades Central looms. That’s a game that means nothing in the standings but everything in bragging rights.
“They want an opportunity to play them,” Bueno said. “There’s a lot of things we’ve got to do yet before that.”
First-year coach Corey Riley had only 26 players to work with on the first day because his other 15 players are traveling the world playing Lacrosse.
“The kids that were out there did a great job day,” Riley said. “Our first week will consist of a lot of developmental work with the goal being to get the players to truly believe in what we’re coaching.”
The Scots will be part of the inaugural season of the Southeastern Football Conference. The conference is made up of 14 teams from around the state that chose to leave their districts for various reasons. St. Andrew’s will be one of the smaller schools in the conference but Riley says that won’t stop them from competing at high level.
“We only have five seniors, but if the players continue to develop like they have, then we will do well,” he said.
One senior who was on hand for the first day is the Scots’ unquestioned team leader, quarterback Sean Mooney, who is drawing interest from many colleges, including several Ivy League schools.
“Sean is a special-type of talent and we’re expecting huge things from him.” Riley said.
Mooney is the only Scot with a starting spot locked up. Riley watched the competition for every other starting position get started.
“We’re teaching them like it’s their first day ever playing football,” Riley said. “It’s fun seeing how the players respond to the challenge.”
Coach Daryl Drinkwater started practice an hour later than planned because of hard rain. He said he had to hold out 15 players because they did not have the mandatory insurance packet that requires a yearly $75 fee to cover insurance.
“Whenever everybody gets here, I think we’ve got the pieces to be pretty darn good,” Drinkwater said.
Either Sean Steele or Artez Fulton, both seniors, will be the starting quarterback, but Fulton also is a solid running back and linebacker as well.
Drinkwater said a key to success for the Chiefs this season will be how quickly a young offensive line matures.
“We want to get as much work and live looks as possible for our offensive line. That’s where we’re real young. But we have experience on the perimeter,” Drinkwater said.
Seminole Ridge won its first district title in 2010 and repeated last year, going 9-2 and reaching the regional semifinals. The Hawks appear ready to take another step this year, but coach Matt Dickmann was blunt in his assessment: “We’re not in shape. We look good on paper, but that don’t mean nothing when you get the pads on.”
On the fields beside the school, 86 players broke into groups for drills. The Hawks’ top skill players ran through the offensive playbook while Dickmann called out plays at a high tempo. Senior running backs Elie Turene and Silas Spearman, junior back E.J. Elien and senior receiver Rayfield Dixon looked ready for action. Senior cornerback Omar Pierre-Louis, defensive tackle Kyle Shortridge and defensive end Jason Shepard took repetitions with a first-team offense that included junior quarterback Zach DeCosta, who has the edge in that position battle.
This summer, Dickmann brought his team to Central Florida’s camp and ran a team camp at Seminole Ridge with coaches from Carnegie Mellon, which runs the same offense as the Hawks. They reviewed the playbook in the morning and hit the field with gusto. “We got a lot done,” Dickmann said.
Thomas Abel came to Wellington with a plan. The first-year coach who replaced Chris Romano put it in place this off-season and spring, and it all seemed to fall into place as his players came back for the start of fall practice.
Wellington worked inside for most of the morning, but got outside once the sky cleared.
“There was a lot of learning and responsibility that we taught in the spring and that carried over,” Abel said. “We’ve got a lot of high expectations. We’re trying to build a family atmosphere here. We want to change the program and change the town in the process, and get people out here supporting Wellington High.”
The Wolverines played in the Heath Evans 7-on-7 tournament in June and participated in summer camps. That’s helped Abel instill a spread offense and an attacking defense with some chemistry. The offense will be run primarily out of the shotgun, with lots of option running involved. And while Abel didn’t want to divulge any names of standout players — “It’s not about a single player,” he said — he mentioned that his team was “loaded” at the skill positions.
The offensive and defensive lines, Abel said, would take some time to grow. It’s a young group, but the talent around them should help them grow and adapt as the season wears on.
“We’re going with our strengths,” Abel said. “We have big guys up front and we’ve got speed everywhere.”
Steve Dorsey and Joseph Kairalla contributed to this story.