Talk back: High school football players sound off on today's topics

Area players dish on top teams, players, biggest issues

Shown from left, Trinity Christian quarterback Jacory Jordan, Mandarin quarterback Carson Beck and Oakleaf defensive end Chantz Williams.
Shown from left, Trinity Christian quarterback Jacory Jordan, Mandarin quarterback Carson Beck and Oakleaf defensive end Chantz Williams.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – High school football is at the midway point of the season. News4Jax gave out 110 surveys during media day before the start of the 2019 season, and 94 of those were returned. In them, players were asked a variety of questions, from the top players in the area to what's the biggest issue facing those athletes today. 

Who is the best offensive player in the area? 

(24) QB Carson Beck, Mandarin. (7) OL Jalen Rivers, Oakleaf. (5) TE Shane Calhoun, Creekside. 

No surprise here. Beck is the state's reigning Mr. Football winner and led the Mustangs to the Class 8A state title last year. His senior season has been uneven to start (571 passing yards, 5 TDs, 8 INT), but this is about the point in the year where Beck heated up in 2018. Rivers is one of the highest-rated recruits in the country and committed to Miami. Calhoun is having an exceptional year as a tight end (20 catches, 261 yards, 3 TDs). 

Who is the best defensive player in the area? 

(13) DE Chantz Williams, Oakleaf. (12) CB Fred Davis, Trinity Christian. (5) LB/SB Centari Mitchell, West Nassau. 

A very close category and no doubt the top two defensive players (and recruits) in the area. Williams, a Miami commit, has 3.5 sacks and is an exceptional edge rusher. Davis is the only five-star recruit in the area (Rivals, 247 Sports Composite) and has 17 tackles, a pick and nine passes defensed. 

Who is the best special teams player in the area? 

(6) RB/SB Chaz Davis, West Nassau. (5) S Avantae Williams, DeLand. (4) SB Broden Dominico, Fleming Island; WR Caleb Keaton, Camden County; K Sean Meisler, Bishop Kenny, K Zach Vontz, Episcopal.

A bit of everything in this grouping. Only Meisler and Vontz are kickers. Another player who received a requisite amount of votes, DeLand safety Avantae Williams, is just out of our coverage area. Davis is an every-unit player who is averaging a team-best 133 ypg and has eight tackles, four total TDs and an interception for the Warriors. 

Who is the best team in the area? 

(26) Trinity Christian. (24) Raines. (15) Mandarin. (6) Bartram Trail. (5) Oakleaf.
Trinity started the season atop our Super 10 and was an easy pick by local players after dropping from Class 5A to 3A. But the going has been difficult for both Trinity and runner-up Raines. Trinity is 2-3 at the midway point and Raines is 2-2. Very surprised that Columbia, the area's No. 1 team in the Super 10, received just one vote. Bartram has been a pleasant surprise. 

How many teams will win state championships this year? 

(23) Three. (20) Two. (17) Eight. (9) One

Of course, eight teams will win. There are eight classifications in the state. But an 8-for-8 local performance in Tallahassee and Orlando would be, well, the best season ever turned in by area teams.

Only twice in FHSAA history have four teams from the First Coast played for state titles in the same year (Bolles, Ponte Vedra, Trinity and UC in 2016 and Baker County, Bartram Trail, Raines and UC in 2017). The most championships won by area teams in one year is two, which has been done 11 times. Percentagewise, teams from the First Coast have taken up half of the championship brackets twice (1964 when only two classifications existed and 1967 when there were three). Even three teams winning titles this year would be a record.

Do you see yourself playing football beyond this season?

Yes: (76). No: (9). Maybe: (7).

This was an interesting question to me simply because of the statistics game. Nearly 81% of the players polled said that they planned on playing football next year, or in college. The most recent data from the NCAA cites that just 7.1% of high school football players will make the transition from the high school field to college.

Just 2.8% of high school football players will suit up for a NCAA Division I program and 1.8% for a Division II school. Granted, most of the players at media day were some of the better players on most teams, but not every program will send players to play in college. So, to me, 81% is still a relatively high number, even in a media day-type setting. 

If you could spend a day with any athlete or celebrity, who would it be and why? 

(7) WR Odell Beckham, Jr., Giants; (5) CB Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars; (3) QB Tom Brady, Patriots; WR Antonio Brown, free agent; WR Tyreek Hill, Chiefs; SF LeBron James, Cavaliers.

This was the most wide-ranging question of all, with 64 different responses. Kodak Black, Juice Wrld, Cardi B, Paul McCartney, Kevin Hart and the Rock were some of the rappers and entertainers mentioned. Kim Kardashian was listed for some odd reason, and probably not a good one. Donald Trump, Tim Tebow, Elon Musk, and, of all people, John Stamos, made the list. I didn't think today's athletes were old enough to remember Uncle Jesse from "Full House." And obviously, this was pre-meltdown Antonio Brown. 

Also mentioned were two area coaches, Episcopal's Mark Brunell, who also does sports analysis for News4Jax, and Columbia's Brian Allen, which was a first for me. In all my years of asking this question or one similar, I can't recall a high school coach appearing on here. Athletes (52 of 64) dominated the choices. Reading the responses on why the athletes chose them varied, but the recurring one was that so and so was a role model. 

If you could face one team that is not on your schedule, who would it be?

(10) Trinity Christian; (8) Bolles and IMG Academy; (6) First Coast and Yulee

The Conquerors would have loved to have heard this when they were making out the regular season schedule. IMG, an ultra-exclusive program in Bradenton that plays a national schedule, came in tied with Bolles. An odd selection was that of Garden City, a community college in Kansas, which had more votes than 18 other schools that appeared on this list. Not sure that game would get the blessing of the needed sanctioning bodies to make that happen. 

What is the biggest issue facing high school athletes today? 

Injuries: (32). Transfers: (27). Social media: (23).

Another good bit of depth in this response. Concussions were mentioned quite a bit here. The transfer issue is something that has been debated, and long before state law that began in 2017 that allowed students to move about freely as long as there were spots available in the school. A spoiler? Spots will always be available for athletes. Social media has no doubt created a different world for today's athletes, and not all of it good. Other things mentioned were grades, pressure, gang violence and team chemistry.

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