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We asked and the players answered: Area football athletes tackle the topics

Trinity Christian players celebrate after winning the Class 3A state title with a 25-22 win over Chaminade Madonna on Wednesday night. (Cole Pepper/WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s a News4Jax tradition.

Every preseason, we hand out surveys to high school football athletes and ask them a series of questions.

It’s anonymous, so players can respond openly and weigh in on a variety of topics, from best teams and players in the area to current events and trends.

We ask, and they answer, providing valuable insight into the life of current high school athletes. A total of 93 players returned questionnaires during the Baker’s Sports football media day early last month.

Want to see our questions and responses from previous years?

Here’s how players answered last year and in 2019.

Besides your own team, who has the best program in the area?

(21) Trinity Christian; (16) Bartram Trail; (13) Bolles; (9) Riverside.

The players have nailed this so far. These four teams have been the top four in our Super 10 from the opening week, albeit, with Trinity and Bolles at 1-2 and Bartram and Riverside flipping spots one week. These four are a combined 15-1 entering Week 5.

Bartram Trail running back Eric Weatherly picks up yards in the third quarter against Oakleaf during a playoff game on November 20, 2020. (Ralph D. Priddy) (News4Jax)
Jaheim Singletary talks Gators (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Who are the best offensive and defensive players in the area who are not on your team?

Offense: (12) Bartram Trail RB Eric Weatherly; (8) Trinity Christian RB Treyuan Webb; (7) Fleming Island RB Sam Singleton.

Defense: (20) Riverside CB Jaheim Singletary; (11) Fletcher DE Aaron Hester.

Always a good vote. Despite the disclaimer, players tend to vote for their own teammates, which explains those from one-win teams receiving multiple votes. But the top players always emerge. Weatherly, a Duke commit, is a multi-year player for the Bears, although he’s been limited to 227 rushing yards and four TDs in four games. Webb, an Oklahoma pledge, makes his second appearance in the mix, but he’s been sidelined by injury. While it’s a somewhat down year in the area for quarterbacks, it was a surprise to see no QB remotely in the conversation. On the defensive side of the ball, no surprise here. Singletary is one of the top recruits in the country and leads the area’s best defensive unit. He’s been making plays since his freshman season.

Who is your favorite college football team?

(28) Florida; (19) Florida State; (10) Georgia; (5) LSU.

Up a tick from a year ago, The Gators were favored by 30% of area players. Last season, Florida garnered 27% of the player vote. Remember, this was done before the season kicked off, so the 0-3 Seminoles may have less support now. Florida State received 20% of the vote this year as opposed to 12% last year. That’s at least one positive for Florida State this year.

Florida quarterback Emory Jones, left, throws a pass as he get a block from offensive lineman Ethan White (77) during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Florida Atlantic, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Who is your favorite NFL team?

(46) Jaguars; (4) Seahawks.

The arrivals of Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence have increased support for the Jaguars among area players. Last season, the Jaguars had 33% of the vote among local players. They went 1-15. This year, Jacksonville brings in 49% of the vote. Twenty-two different NFL teams were mentioned in the survey. Absent for the second consecutive year are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite having Tom Brady and winning the Super Bowl, the Bucs don’t move the needle here.

Name, image and likeness laws have been put in place around the country for college athletes. Should high school athletes be able to profit off their name, image and likeness?

(73) Yes; (16) No.

This type of topic has shifted so much in the past 10 years more than any other. When I’d done these in years past, the majority of players felt that a scholarship was enough form of payment at the college level. As years passed and the obscene amount of money that football programs make for their universities became clearer and clearer, the mindset changed. In recent years, favor for allowing college players to earn money grew.

And with landmark rulings this year, college players can now profit off of their name, image and likeness, or NIL. College trends often trickle down to the high school level, so it’s only a matter of time until the dam breaks on NIL. California already permits high school athletes to profit off NIL. High school athletes overwhelmingly said that they should have the right to earn money off of their NIL right now. But players who said “no” gave very passionate reasons for it, with multiple players saying that high school remains the last level of “pure” football before the business aspect of football seeps in. They want Friday night lights to still be untainted by the dollar signs that await in college.

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2020, file photo, NCAA President Mark Emmert testifies during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on intercollegiate athlete compensation on Capitol Hill in Washington. Just days away from the start of the NCAA's most lucrative and high-profile event, the Division I men's basketball tournament, Emmert spoke to the AP about where things stand with the association's attempts to reform its rules related to name, image and likeness compensation for athletes. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Have you had COVID-19?

(46) No; (21) Yes.

A sign of the times, but more players say they haven’t had the coronavirus than those who have had it. This survey was taken two months ago, so the “yes” totals have probably ticked up by a few.

Have you been or do you plan on getting vaccinated?

(41) No; (35) Yes; (9) Thought or thinking about it.

Another trending topic, with vaccination or no vaccination very close to one another. Perhaps with the FDA giving approval to the Pfizer vaccine last month, the “no” could have seen a decrease. Or if any of the nine “thinking about it” responses have gotten vaccinated, that could bring these numbers closer together.

A vial of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 sits on a table at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

What is the biggest issue facing high school athletes today?

(15) COVID-19 issues/health/injuries; (12) Time management; (11) Schoolwork/grades/academics; (6) Laziness; (6) Recruiting pressure.

Last year, COVID-19 was the overwhelming issue. In 2019, injuries were the biggest worry. Now, it’s a cluster. The COVID cloud remains a worry. Multiple players mentioned the same reason for the COVID concerns as they did the injury issue — you only have a limited amount of time in high school. COVID cancellations, while not as prevalent at the current time (there were more in the opening two weeks of the season), still loom large. Two local teams, Menendez and Nease, had their 2020 seasons end with playoff games canceled by COVID issues. The time management concern has popped up before, but never this prominently. The laziness answer was intriguing. Several players who listed that as a response said teammates don’t work as hard as they did pre-pandemic. Other answers that were listed multiple times and very interesting: finding time to hold a job, peer pressure, staying out of gangs and hanging out with the wrong people.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.