Top teams, biggest issues: Area football players tackle a variety of topics

The Trinity Christian football team celebrates its Class 2A state championship on Thursday night in Tallahassee. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News4JAX hands out a list of questions to high school football players before the start of every season covering a variety of topics. This year, we received responses from nearly 110 players. Players are asked to not vote for their own team or teammates on select questions. This is what they had to tell us.

Previous surveys | 2021 survey | 2020 survey | 2019 survey

Besides your own team, which team is the best in the area?

(21) Bolles

(18) Trinity Christian

(8) Jackson and Raines

(7) Bartram Trail.

Thoughts: Again, this was a preseason questionnaire so the reality of this holding up at midseason varies from year to year. The Bulldogs have been racked by injuries and inexperience, mired in their first three-game losing streak since the year before Corky Rogers arrived. In the three previous seasons, Trinity has been voted the top team twice. It won the state title last year when it was picked as the top team and also endured a 5-6, first-round playoff exit the other year it was tabbed as No. 1 (2019). These votes show just how much Jackson has improved under coach Christopher Foy.

Big day in recruiting as Kearney, Howard, Denson pick colleges

Who are the top players in the area?


(10) Orange Park OT Roderick Kearney (above)

(9) Nease QB Marcus Stokes

(8) and Trinity RB Treyaun Webb

(7) Episcopal WR Corey Scott

(5) Bolles OL Brendan Black and Trinity QB Colin Hurley.

Bartram Trail cornerback Sharif Denson committed to Florida this week. (News4JAX)


(9) Bartram Trail DB Sharif Denson (above)

(5) Jackson LB Grayson Howard.

Thoughts: Recruiting angles tend to run drive this question. While he doesn’t play for a traditional power, Kearney has been a four-year player for the Raiders and is the top area recruit in the Class of 2023. Stokes led the Panthers to a 9-4 regional final season in 2021 and committed to Florida. On the defensive side, Denson has been all over the field this season and is making more of an impact than at any other time in his career for a very good team.

Who is your favorite NFL team?

(34) Jaguars.

(7) Bucs

(5) Cowboys.

Thoughts: A total of 26 teams drew votes, including 15 with multiple votes. The Jaguars should always come out ahead here but it’s interesting to see the variance from year to year. The Buccaneers, who have had years where they’ve had no votes from area players, surge up the list this year.

Who is your favorite college team?

(27) Gators

(15) Florida State

(8) Georgia

(5) Clemson and Ohio State.

Thoughts: The Gators rank as the top team for the third straight year and the ‘Noles are No. 2 for the third straight season. The Bulldogs, even coming off a national championship, are a distant third.

Who is your football favorite player?

(4) CB Jalen Ramsey

(3) QB Tom Brady, QB Trevor Lawrence, LB Micah Parsons.

Thoughts: A bit of a surprise here. Ramsey, the ex-Jaguars corner, has thrived in Los Angeles. I thought Lawrence would have moved the needle a bit more but his rookie season was uneven. This vote will likely look a bit different in 2023 if the Jaguars keep playing how they are.

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 26: Jalen Ramsey #5 of the Los Angeles Rams walks off the field before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) (2021 Katelyn Mulcahy)

A new playoff system is in place in high school. Do you like it?

(64) Too soon to tell

(18) Fan of it

(6) Don’t like it

(4) Not sure.

Thoughts: The Suburban-Metro was voted to take the place of the traditional state playoff system this year. Like many area coaches, players say it’s too soon to tell how the split will look come postseason time. A recurring comment on this was that players generally say they don’t care who they face in the playoffs.

The ability for college athletes to make money of their name, image and likeness has been in effect for more than a year. Should that be permitted in high school?

(72) Yes

(28) No.

Thoughts: The ‘No’s’ gained on the ‘Yeses’ this year. Some states have already cleared the way for high school athletes to benefit financially off their name, image and likeness. Money and benefits will tend to skew towards players wanting them, but most of the ‘no’ answers were on the same plane when it came to the whys. The recurring mention is that players who said no feel that adding the element of benefits to the game now would diminish the experience of high school with friends and teammates. A line that was repeated by many ‘yes’ votes was that it would really help a players family and even their school if money was invested into the program.

What is the biggest issue facing high school athletes?

(31) Injuries

(29) Social media

(24) Grades

(17) Recruiting

(6) Getting exposure.

Thoughts: Always one of the most detailed responses year after year. Many players wrote multiple things. Social media remains a constant, but injuries or health (COVID-19 led the way the previous two years) have topped the chart each of the four years. Health can almost dovetail into the ability to stay on the field and many, if not all of the players who responded, have goals of playing in college.

What team that is not on your schedule would you like to play the most?

(10) Fleming Island.

(9) Raines.

(7) IMG Academy

(6) Nease

(4) Creekside, Middleburg, Niceville, Paxon, Stanton.

Thoughts: The Golden Eagles are among the area’s top teams, along with the Vikings. Both have been a Super 10 fixture all year. National power IMG used to have a bit of a rivalry with Trinity Christian but it hasn’t faced any area team other than the Conquerors. And there’s a very good reason for that. IMG facing area teams would not be a fair battle.

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.