The grind begins: Optimism on full display as schools open spring football practice

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – High school football is back, for a few weeks at least, with spring practices opening Monday across the state. Teams are permitted 20 practices in spring, which typically conclude with a game. It’s helmets and then shells for the first five days of practice, with full pads permitted on the sixth day.

A few sights and sounds from Monday’s opening day of spring:

Bring on the expectations at Jackson

Jackson head coach Christopher Foy saw his team go 7-4 and qualify for the state playoffs for the first time since 2010. What does that mean for 2022, with the Tigers now slugging it out in the newly formed Metro division with heavyweight Raines and a rebuilding Ribault in District 1-2M. Foy said those expectations are a blessing.

“Wonderful. I love it. I mean, it holds you accountable,” Foy said of the expectations a season like that create. “I mean, to be good is to be able to sustain that week in and week out so we have we got to do that this year. You don’t get a chance to sneak up on anybody.”

With a mega-recruit in linebacker Grayson Howard, the attention on the field and in recruiting, will be on Jackson more than it has been in years. That’s great, Foy said, because Howard has grown as the program has. Gators linebackers coach Mike Peterson was out at practice Monday taking a close look at Howard. That visibility from Howard and the confidence from 2021 have done big things on Main Street.

“It taught us that we can, I mean, that we are just as competitive as all the historically good programs and Jackson has always been historically good,” Foy said. “Now, we made our way [up] and we plan on staying.”

Howard is the school’s biggest recruit since RB Leon Washington (2002 to Florida State) and defensive tackle D’Angelo McCray (2007 to Illinois).

Washington was a 247 Sports five-star athlete whom the service rated as the No. 11 prospect in the country. Rivals had Washington as the ninth overall player. McCray was the No. 64 overall prospect by ESPN, a Rivals four-star and No. 217 overall recruit.

Bigger expectations at Nease

One of biggest surprises in the area last year was the resurgence at Nease.

In coach Collin Drafts’ first season in 2019, the Panthers had one win. In the pandemic-strafed 2020 season, Nease had one win and had to forfeit its playoff opener due to COVID-19 issues.

So, how did Nease shake things up last year? Only by going 7-3 in the regular season and then winning two playoff games on the road against higher-seeded teams en route to an unlikely berth in the regional finals.

“Now, I’ve challenged our rising seniors and even our underclassmen; how can you sustain that? How can we keep that moving? You know, here’s day one, you know, a small step towards that journey, but it’s definitely something that we’re not going to shy away from, that we want to be consistent and be there at the end of the year again.”

Despite losing All-News4JAX offensive player of the year Dom Henry to graduation, the Panthers return first team quarterback Marcus Stokes, a four-star recruit who is committed to Penn State.

“The guys love Marcus,” Drafts said. “They respond well to him. He’s well-respected and he brings a lot of energy to our football team. So, you know, we’re going to go as he goes, and I’m going to challenge him even more this year.”

The same expectations at Trinity Christian

New season, same expectation for the Conquerors of Trinity Christian.

Win a state title.

That’s what happens when you’re a nine-time state champion, have a future hall of fame coach in Verlon Dorminey and back-to-back state crowns. Add in one of the top running back recruits in the country and a rising sophomore quarterback who could wind up as the country’s top QB prospect in the Class of 2025, and it’s easy to see why those expectations remain as high as ever for the Conquerors.

At the forefront of Trinity’s quest for a threepeat are two offensive stars, quarterback Colin Hurley and running back Treyaun Webb. Those two played big roles for the Conquerors in a 2021 season that ended with a 41-23 rout of Hialeah Champagnat Catholic in the Class 2A title game.

Webb, a rising senior, finally got healthy for the Conquerors after what felt like two years of bad injury luck. Webb’s playoff stretch was spectacular. He blistered Class 2A opponents in the playoffs, racking up 856 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 67 carries.

“It’s just going to be a lot of fun to watch him have a great senior year, you know,” Dorminey said. “And go and make that choice of where he wants to go to school.”

Hurley led the Conquerors to a state title as a freshman last season and is no doubt the player who Trinity will count on more and more if teams look to negate Webb and fellow back Darnell Rogers. Hurley (6-2, 212 pounds) wasn’t frazzled playing on a veteran team and will only get better as he gets older.

“You know what, he’s an incredible kid now. He’s a hard worker. And you know, he just puts the time in. He gets after it,” Dorminey said. “Just one of kids that you know, he is that guy, he’s elite. And he’s a great quarterback. He’s got the arm strength, he’s got everything he needs to be at that level. You know, he’s got several Power Five offers, so it’s just going to be fun to watch and develop over the next three years.”

The Conquerors have won all nine of those championships since 2002, one behind Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas for most titles by a program in the 21st century. Trinity’s title moved it into a tie with University Christian for third-most in state history. Only Aquinas (13) and Bolles (11) have won more.

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.