Kickoff is getting close: Sights, sounds, and more from high school football media day

Westside defensive lineman Jordan Hall during an interview on Monday during the Jaguars Prep and Baker's Sports high school football media day at TIAA Bank Field. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – High school football season is just around the corner. Teams began practice on Monday, which also happened to be the day of the annual Jaguars Prep and Baker’s Sports high school media day. That day has always been the de facto launch of the fall season. The regular season kicks off Aug. 19 in Georgia and Aug. 26 in Florida. Here are a few sights and sounds of the morning at TIAA Bank Field.

The Suburban-Metro debate

The overhaul of the state playoff system this year created the Suburban and Metro divisions. That split the state’s eight most populous counties (Broward, Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Seminole) from the 59 others. Some coaches were for it. Some were against it. Others didn’t care. Football’s football.

“Honestly doesn’t matter,” said Bartram Trail’s Darrell Sutherland, whose team is now in the Suburban division.

“You know, as they were all debating it, I know there’s some places maybe where it affects more than it does us. But we feel like when you look at who’s in our classification, we’re still going to get play really, really good football teams.”

For a team like Trinity Christian, now in the Metro, it affords it locked in district games to help fill out the schedule, always a tough task as a nine-time state champ. Instead of soliciting out-of-area teams for games (and lengthy travel), the Conquerors now have local games in their new district. That’s good for the schedule, albeit tough for new district opponents like Christ’s Church, North Florida Educational Institute and Providence, all smaller programs who will face a monster of a task when they face Trinity.

“The scheduling standpoint was great for us because now it gives us four games that I don’t have to stay on the phone and work through the summer trying to get everybody to play,” Trinity coach Verlon Dorminey said.

“It really didn’t change much as far as our playoffs. It kind of took some of the smaller schools that were in 2A and put them in with us that were 3A, which I don’t think it’s fair to them.”

Mandarin’s Toby Bullock said the split makes for an interesting dynamic. Who’s the real champion at the end of the day with such a drastic slice across the state?

“I’m not a fan. In 2018, we were able to win a state title and it’s a great feeling knowing that every team in 8A football had an opportunity to get there,” Bullock said. “And so, you were a legitimate champion. And when you have Suburban and Metro, if you win a Metro title and then you have a Suburban [champ], how do you really know that you’re better than that? … And so, it puts a little funk on it for me where I don’t, I’m just not a fan of it. I’m just not a fan of it. I like everybody being in there, everybody’s in the pot.”

New year, new comfort

What a difference a year makes for Ciatrick Fason and Koreen Burch.

Last season, both of those coaches were hired very late in the process, Fason at his alma mater, Fletcher, and Burch at Christ’s Church.

Fason led the Senators to a district title and the state playoffs in a 5-6 season. Burch’s Eagles went 5-4 and reached the Sunshine State Athletic Conference postseason.

Both Fletcher and Christ’s Church opened with midnight practices Monday to usher in the 2022 season. Fason said it was a much different feeling at the first practice this year.

“We went in and we already have 41 plays installed and we run those 41 plays, unlike last year this time when I came in here. We had zero plays installed and we was just getting ready to go,” Fason said. “So just having a full year under our belt and a quarterback who done been through it and quarterback that’s still rising with the leadership he has, taught me a lot. It’s got us 10 steps ahead of last year.”

Burch said there was excitement and familiarity at his first practice Monday. The big change — time. Last year, implementing plays was a challenge due to the limited time.

“It seemed like everything came fast last year. So, it was a little struggle trying to adjust and put in my things. But you know, once you try to figure out, that’s not going to work, you don’t have enough time,” Burch said of the rush in 2021. “You kind of go with what you know and what you can utilize and do with their strengths.”

NIL to high school?

Name, image and likeness legislation became law last year, which permitted college athletes to make money while in school. Since then, the floodgates have opened to the high school level. Numerous states have passed laws to allow or (deny) high school athletes to profit off of NIL.

Will that make it to Florida? It’s likely just a matter of time.

The Florida High School Athletic Association said in the spring that it had already been sued in a South Florida court

Reaction to NIL was surprisingly a bit mixed from the high school contingent.

Some coaches like the idea.

“I’m going to say, ‘good idea.’ It’s mainly because I do not believe in restricting people’s right to earn anything,” said White High coach Lawrence Johnson. “I don’t like some of the stuff that comes with it. But I mean, if someone can make some money, who am I to tell them they can’t just because they’re playing a sport.”

Others don’t want it at the high school level.

“No. No. Absolutely not. NIL in high school, no. I think that that deteriorates … high school football, in my opinion is kind of like the last beacon of pureness, really. It used to be college was that way and look, I’m not against NIL in college and transfer and all that. That’s what we’re trending towards, obviously,” said Nease coach Collin Drafts.

“But I think at least at the high school level, we can still keep our team intact and preach core values, let it be about the team and let it be about the game.”

What about the players? Slam dunk for it, right? Not everyone.

“I feel like in high school, it should just be about like grinding with your guys and just having fun while you’re young,” said Bartram Trail corner back and Gators commit Sharif Denson.

“I feel like if they start to add money to the high school thing, it might trick it up a little bit, might make some bumps and bruises, so I don’t know, I don’t think that’s good.”

Westside defensive tackle Jordan Hall had a great NIL viewpoint. When asked if Publix ponied up an NIL deal for a hypothetical $250,000 sum, Hall said he’d bend.

“If Publix offered me free chicken for a week, every week, I probably would take it. But that’s the kid in me speaking, but I’d probably let my parents deal with that. But obviously, that’s a lot of money to pass up and turn down so I can’t even say I could do that. But talking to my parents about it, I don’t think it’d be a big issue … If it’s chicken, Publix chicken, ‘Publix, you offer me some chicken, I’m taking the chicken.’ Spicy, naked wings, I’m taking the chicken.”

Welcome to the club, Coach

Raines coach Donovan Masline celebrated a first this summer — fatherhood. Masline, 32, became a first-time father when he and wife, Tralanda, welcomed Donovan II to the Ichiban family. That’ll make football season interesting, and no doubt Donovan II will be up for some late night film sessions with his dad. While Masline and his wife welcomed their son before the season, University Christian coach David Penland III and his wife, Ciara, are expecting their second child during the season, Week 1 to be exact.

Lose one, gain one

Two-time defending state champion Trinity Christian lost a big part of its program last month when offensive coordinator Gerard Ross took a position at Florida State. Ross was a star with the Conquerors in high school, signed with the Seminoles and then spent two seasons in the NFL before returning to Trinity where he’s coached ever since.

With his departure, the Conquerors tabbed another former star to fill the void — Guss Scott.

Scott was a two-way headliner at Trinity before signing with Florida and then going to the NFL.

“We hated losing him but it’s hard to turn down that opportunity,” Dorminey said. “It’s a great move for him. But Guss coming back is huge, too. … Guss’s football mind is, he’s forgotten more football than I’ll ever know.”

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.