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High school football 2020: Top games, players to watch, big changes

Fletcher running back Myles Montgomery is the reigning All-News4Jax offensive player of the year. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)
Fletcher running back Myles Montgomery is the reigning All-News4Jax offensive player of the year. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What’s different? Quite a bit.

High school football season officially kicks off in Florida and in Georgia on Friday, a welcome sight after six months of COVID-19 cancellations and postponements. Across the area, it’s a relatively light schedule that night, but it’s real, live football.

The bulk of schools in News4Jax’s 11-county Florida coverage area will begin games the following week.

It took three Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors meetings to decide on the start date for a season and the final vote came just 10 days before the start of fall practices.

What ensued has been a race to fill out schedules and firm up safety protocols so that a football season can play out. Here’s a quick trip back through the 2019 season as a refresher on how things looked a year ago. Below is a crash course primer on the 2020 high school football season to get fans caught up. More coverage will follow during the lead up to kickoff.

About those crowds

Football under the Friday night lights typically packs the stadium. This season, at least initially, most school districts will cap attendance at 30%, with some going more and at least one other going less. There will be a shift in places to digital-only tickets. More games will be streamed than in the past.

Here’s a look at what select private schools and public school districts are doing for games”

Bishop Kenny: Capacity of 20% for all games. Digital ticketing. Plans to be finalized this week.

Bolles: Spectators limited to parents and siblings of players and cheerleaders. They will be screened and asked to sit in designated spots.

Bradford: Capacity of 50% for all games. That’s roughly 1,200 at a football game.

Clay County: Venue capacity limited to 30%. Digital ticket sales only.

Duval County: Venue capacity of 30%. Face coverings required when social distancing isn’t possible. Parents and guardians of athletes will have priority on purchasing tickets.

Episcopal: Will be announced this week.

Flagler County: Plans not yet announced.

Nassau County: Venue capacity limited to 50%.

St. Johns County: Venue capacity limited to 30%.

Trinity Christian: Capacity limited to 50%. All digital ticket sales.

University Christian: Capacity limited to 50%, which is roughly 700 fans.

Playoffs

This is one of the bigger changes this season.

With some districts around the state unlikely to be able to compete in the playoffs due to potential travel restrictions or start the season at a reasonable time, the FHSAA made the biggest of all changes to its playoff format.

Instead of crowning district champs in Classes 5A-8A and using MaxPreps ranking points to assign the remaining four seeds in regions, it is shaking things up entirely.

Teams have to declare intent to compete in the playoffs by Sept. 18. If they declare for the playoffs, teams will automatically make it. Sometime after that date, the FHSAA will reclassify the entire state and re-slot teams. In Class 5A-8A, 16 teams per region will make the playoffs. In 1A-4A, eight teams per region will make the playoffs. If there are more than eight or 16 teams in a region, then Nov. 13 will be a regional playoff play-in game.

Another change is that teams will be seeded based on a blind draw held on Oct. 26.

He’s back

Myles Montgomery, the All-News4Jax Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, posted the fourth-highest regular-season rushing total in the 2010s decade (220 carries, 2,124 yards, 20 TDs). The three seasons better than Montgomery’s — Yulee’s Derrick Henry (3,270 in 2012 and 2,671 in 2010) and Providence’s Jamauri Wakefield (2,519 in 2014).

That’s regular season only. With an eight-game regular season instead of 10 and a much larger target on his chest this year, it’s going to be a challenge for Montgomery to replicate 2K in 2020. But with a veteran offensive line in front of him, that’ll be a target to shoot for.

They are, too

Outside of Montgomery, six other members of the All-News4Jax first-team offense are back:

Athletes A.J. Jones (Bartram Trail) and Walter Simmons III (Oakleaf).

Tight end Nick Elksnis of Episcopal.

Offensive lineman Ryan Piersza of Bartram Trail.

Receivers Marcus Burke (Trinity Christian) and Patrick Bryant II (Atlantic Coast).

On defense, there are four first-team All-News4Jax selections back.

Athlete Caden Fordham of Bolles.

Linebackers Branden Jennings (Sandalwood) and Malakai Grant (Flagler Palm Coast).

Cornerback Isaiah Jones of Oakleaf, who played at Lee last season.

New faces

Among the coaching changes since last year, a handful of men are making their debuts as high school head varsity coaches.

First-time head coaches are in place at Clay (Kyle Kennard), Englewood (Zachary Harbison), Jackson (Christopher Foy), North Florida Educational (Franchot Allen), Raines (Dominic Masline), Ribault (Marlon White), St. Johns Country Day (Rocky Bantag) and St. Joseph (Kyle Bradburn).

Trading places

Here’s a look at 11 notable players who are at new schools this season:

Position, Player, Class, Old school, New school

ATH Cobie Bates, Sr., Lee, Oakleaf

QB Chris Calhoun, Jr., Ribault, Sandalwood

RB Kevonte Doles, Sr., Lee, Parker

DB Christian Ellis, Jr., Sandalwood, Trinity Christian

LB/DE Langston Hardy, Sr., Episcopal, Sandalwood

TE Christopher Johnson, Sr., Ribault, Westside

DB Isaiah Jones, Sr., Lee, Oakleaf

K David Kemp, Sr., Andover (Maryland), Bartram Trail

QB Santino Marucci, Sr., Palm Beach Benjamin, Bartram Trail

DB Robert Simmons, Jr., Lee, Sandalwood

S Larry Smith, Sr., Lee, Oakleaf

Top 20 games of 2020

All kickoff times are 7 p.m. unless indicated. An * indicates a region game. The full week-by-week schedule can be found here. Those looking for specific teams can find those schedules here.

Sept. 11: Bolles at Trinity Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18: Oakleaf at Lowndes, 8 p.m.

Sept. 18: Matanzas at Flagler Palm Coast

Sept. 25: Columbia at Trinity Christian

Sept. 25: St. Augustine at Bartram Trail

Oct. 2: Plantation American Heritage at Bartram Trail

Oct. 9: Glynn Academy at Brunswick, 7:30 p.m.*

Oct. 9: Madison County at Columbia

Oct. 9: Mandarin at Trinity Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 16: Lee at Columbia

Oct. 16: Oakleaf at Mandarin, 6 p.m.

Oct. 16: Trinity Christian at Plantation American Heritage, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 17: Ribault at Raines, 2 p.m.

Oct. 23: Bolles at University Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 23: Oakleaf at Bartram Trail

Oct. 23: Sandalwood at Mandarin, 6 p.m.

Oct. 23: Trinity Christian at Lee, 6 p.m.

Oct. 30: Parker at Westside, 6 p.m.

Nov. 5: Mandarin at Fletcher, 6 p.m.

Nov. 13: Camden County at Lowndes, 7:30 p.m.*

20 others not to miss

All kickoff times are 7 p.m. unless indicated. An * indicates a region game.

Sept. 4: Fernandina Beach at Yulee

Sept. 11: Ponte Vedra at Nease

Sept. 11: Mandarin at Atlantic Coast, 6 p.m.

Sept. 11: Yulee at West Nassau

Sept. 18: Camden County at Raines, 6 p.m.

Sept. 18: Ribault at Lee, 6 p.m.

Sept. 25: Lee at Mandarin, 6 p.m.

Oct. 2: Camden County at Oakleaf

Oct. 2: Menendez at St. Augustine

Oct. 9: Flagler Palm Coast at St. Augustine

Oct. 9: Ponte Vedra at Bartram Trail

Oct. 16: Bartram Trail at Nease

Oct. 16: Stanton at Paxon, 6 p.m.

Oct. 23: Nease at St. Augustine

Oct. 30: Camden County at Colquitt County, 8 p.m.*

Oct. 30: Raines at Trinity Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 5: Bartram Trail at Raines, 6 p.m.

Nov. 5: Englewood at Wolfson, 6 p.m.

Nov. 5: White at Lee, 6 p.m.

Nov. 6: St. Augustine at Palatka


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