JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Monday was the first day high school football teams in the state of Florida could begin practicing. At Raines and Mandarin, the Vikings and Mustangs began fall practice as defending state champions.
Mandarin held practice number one in the parking lot Monday morning. The practice field was too damp from recent rain. The Mustangs won the 8A championship last year, the first in school history. Quarterback Carson Beck, Mr. Football in the state of Florida, returns for Bobby Ramsay's team.
"It's exciting. It's a lot of fun," Ramsay said. "Every coach looks forward to this day. You have it in your head what you want your team to look like. Now you get a chance to see what it will look like."
At Raines, the Vikings know what it's like to start the season as the hunted. After winning back-to-back championships in 4A, they were reclassified to 5A for this season.
"It's tough. Any time you move up it's tough," head coach Deran Wiley said. "You add another game and you add Ribault to (the district). The game will not be played the last game of the year like it normally is, but it's Raines-Ribault and we'll get excited about that."
Despite the consecutive crowns, Wiley is approaching this season like any other, setting the expectations in the early stage of practice and building on the tradition he has helped grow at the school.
"You are trying to tweak some things that you want to do better," Wiley said. "Day one is day one. You hope the locker room, the culture takes over."
Continuity should help Mandarin as well. Even though they lost some key players on the field to graduation, the quarterback and the coaching staff return for 2019.
"Year two with the staff that we put together last year. We aren't installing as much as we are building on the foundation," Ramsay said. "We're fully healthy at the quarterback position to start the season, which last year, we weren't. It's a calming factor."