Return of spring football a welcome sight for area players, coaches

Trinity Christian players run through drills on Monday, the opening day of spring football practice around the state.
Trinity Christian players run through drills on Monday, the opening day of spring football practice around the state. (News4Jax)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Spring is in the air and high school football is back.

On Monday, high school football programs around the state kicked off spring football practice, continuing the slow crawl back from the coronavirus pandemic that has plagued the country over the past 13 months.

Even though spring is an abbreviated glimpse of practice, it is still football. A year ago, that wasn’t the case.

“It was way too much time off, that’s what it was last year, you know,” said Trinity Christian coach Verlon Dorminey. “And so this is great for the kids, just to get them back out here and get this month’s practice, and just keep them all together. You know last year, it’s just, and you want to put hands on your kids and find them, and you know, they’re all trying to work, but they can’t get together, and so this is really good.”

Trinity was the lone area team to bring home a state championship last season, with the Conquerors winning the Class 3A crown in dramatic fashion with a 25-22 comeback over Hollywood Chaminade Madonna at Doak Campbell Stadium. That was the eighth championship in program history for Trinity, all of those coming under Dorminey.

Bolles and University Christian played for state titles in Class 4A and 2A, respectively, but dropped those games.

A year ago, spring football would have been a very welcome sight in the state. The pandemic scrapped the bulk of the spring sports calendar and wound up pushing the start of the regular season back. The uncertainty at this time last year was in full swing, with virtual learning picking up and athletic competitions paused.

Now, the sights and sounds of spring football fill the air around town. Of course, there are still coronavirus safety protocols in place at practices. Those are part of the fabric of normal now.

“It’s starting to feel a sense of normalcy come back, not all the way, but we’re getting there,” said First Coast coach Marty Lee. “We still do temperature checks and scans, ask them questions, still those things. But it’s slowly getting back to feeling like it should. Still a long ways away, but we’re excited about it. Just to be able to be out here again, watch these young men run around be happy. There’s a sense of normalcy coming back.”

Spring football primer

What is the big deal about spring football?

It’s a brief window for high school football teams to get back out on the field and knock the rust off before the summer break. Teams can hold a total of 20 practice sessions (usually 19 practices and a spring game) before packing the helmets and blocking sleds up until late July.

What are the big changes to high school football this year?

Some of the biggest changes for the 2021 season involve classification moves. The Florida High School Athletic Association released those new district and region assignments in mid-March and those will apply for this season alone. Nine area teams either moved up or down in classification.

What about schedules?

Last year, the indecisiveness about when to start the season meant that schools had to scramble around to put schedules together. Now, teams have largely filled out their 2021 schedules. While it’s still a few months later than coaches would like to have those finalized, it’s far better than it was in 2020.

When does the season start?

In Georgia, the first regular season games will be held Aug. 20. In Florida, kickoff classics are Aug. 20 and the regular season begins the following week.

How about the new coaches?

There’s always turnover in the coaching ranks. This year, nine schools in the Florida and South Georgia coverage area replaced coaches. New program, Tocoi Creek in St. Johns County, also has its first coach.

School, Old coach, New coach

Camden County, Bob Sphire, Jeff Herron

Christ’s Church, Jim Stomps, Koreen Burch

Episcopal, Mark Brunell, Marcus Wells

Flagler Palm Coast, Travis Roland, TBA

Menendez, Mark Galella*, Matt Potak

Middleburg, Karl Smeltzer, Ryan Wolfe

Palatka, Willie Fells, Patrick Turner

Ponte Vedra, Brad Kessel*, Steve Price

Tocoi Creek, N/A, Mike Kolakowski

Yulee, Terrence Flagler, Kyle Dougherty

* indicates interim role

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