I have long believed that if you are going to do something, it needs to be done right. Since I have traveled throughout Florida, visiting schools and watching football games for the better part of 30 years, I have been able to turn it into a very popular segment. With the opportunity to see more players and teams than anyone I know, I am going to start the series once again – by popular demand!
Last year's SUMMER TRIP ACROSS THE STATE OF FLORIDA series was one of the most popular things I did all year. Each week throughout July and August, I will showcase football teams across the state of Florida and share a few paragraphs in each region to give a sampling of the best football in the nation.
Our first trip this week begins in the much-overlooked Florida PANHANDLE. If you doubt Pensacola's contribution to the world of collegiate football, I suggest that you need to grab a few rosters and look at where some impressive players come from in the state of Florida. Pensacola, and some of the cities around this jewel of an area, has been home to some great football each and every fall.
One of the great guys in the state of Florida that simply hasn't received the credit he deserves is Pensacola Senior High coach Mike Bennett. Surrounding himself with an outstanding coaching staff and players who are as athletic as you will find, Bennett has a number of key players returning from last year when his team went two rounds deep in the playoffs.
Defensive end/tight end Bernard White is one of the top players along with lineman Paul Griffin and versatile (star basketball player) Alex Gordon, who is a quality quarterback. Also, senior defensive backs David Williams and Lorenzo Griffin are promising as well. Looking for a senior surprise? How about Hattiesburg, Ms. transfer Keith Brown. One of the top receivers in Mississippi comes east for his final year.
The Tigers also boast junior linemen Antonio Jones and Antwan Worthy as well as running back Brady Lindsey and quarterback Adron Chambers.
Also in the Pensacola area are the Bulldogs of Crestview, who finished as the 3A state runner-up in 2002.
Coach Matt Brunson's team features returning quarterback/running back Adam Phillips, who led this team to 13 wins a year ago.
In addition to Phillips, linemen Jacob Lawson, Patrick Lancaster, Todd Johnson, Richard Bortner and Ronnie Stewart are back for their final season.
Tight end Mitch Landis, and wingbacks Cornelius Union and Danny Livingston are back.
On defense, Eric Melvin, Patrick Russom, Cedric Turner and junior Chris Rushing are make as this team and its many fans look for a repeat.
Moving on in our first trip, we are now in the NORTH and land in Jacksonville with a visit to a pair of state champions.
1A State champion Trinity Christian under the direction of Verlon Dorminey, who has long been one of my favorites, return a number of impressive athletes who will give the Conquerors another shot at a state title.
The senior class begins with running back Lamar Lewis, and also includes tight end Stephen Chicola, lineman Andy Lyons, quarterback Robby Hepler, running back Matt Jackson, fullback Drew Steinmetz and record-setting kicker Kyle Murray.
Junior linemen Jim Bob Williams and Josh Cook are quality. So are fullback Matt Torres and halfback Franchott Allen. Sophomore receiver Timmy Tebow will also make a difference.
On defense, senior lineman Mboya Ball and Jonathan Caruso are joined by linebacker Steve Betros and defensive backs Brett Bowers, Billy Hutchinson and Bobby Jackson.
Linemen Matt Stevens and Kyle Carr, and defensive backs Kenny Perkins and Mike Bajalia are juniors who could figure in the teams' success.
Across town, 2A state champion The Bolles School with legendary head coach Corky Rogers aren't resting on their 2002 performance. These Bulldogs know that success will be in the hands of some talented football players.
On offense, lineman Martin Wells and wingbacks Bryan Hassel and Jon Sofge come back from last year as seniors. The junior class will be counted on heavily with receiver Daniel Zvara, lineman Adam Longenecker, quarterback Riley Skinner and fullback Max Higgs will attempt to fill some holes.
Defensively, linemen Clint Sovie, Keith Lisante, Michael Dotsie and Harry Kenning join linebackers Brian Thompson and Kyle Thurmond as quality seniors.
The Bulldogs are loaded with talent in the junior class with Shaun Van Rensburg, Marvin Sapp and Brandon Sizemore.
As we continue on our first journey of the summer, we head toward the CENTRAL REGION. That's where we meet up with defending 6A state runner up Orlando Edgewater.
Coach Bill Gierke's Eagles may have lost a close game last year, and also saw a number of key athletes move on, but there is also plenty of talent coming back.
The senior class on offense boasts tight end B.J. Blasewitz, and quality linemen Randall Lyons, Josh Tanner, Regan Deal, Bruce Mount and Milburn Duverna. Running back Michael King will also be counted on.
Lineman Matt Hardrick and quarterback Mike Dunn are a pair of juniors who will be counted on.
The defense is also going to be strong with seniors Aaron Jones on the line, Fabian Whylly at linebacker and Dustin Mouzon in the secondary. Junior linebacker Arthur Thomas and sophomore safety Bobby Rauh will also be heard from.
Also in the region we make a call on new head coach Ty Ensor and his Apopka Blue Darters – 2001 state champions who were in rare form during the spring.
Apopka boasts quality seniors on offense with quarterback Jarrett Gallagher, running back Antwon Johnson, linemen Ryan Bridenbaugh, Connell Fair, Dennario Robinson and David Mahoney and receiver/tight end Cale Duncan.
Also, state-rated running back Quentin Taylor (linebacker) leads an impressive group of juniors on offense. Also, running back Ivory Lewis, receiver Eric Sledge and lineman Jhannee Safford will make an impression. Look for sophomore running back Nico Stanley and receiver Joe Shuler to also make a contribution.
On defense, linebacker Josh Mott; lineman Herbert Felder, Kyle Armstrong, Norman Robinson, Terrance Odums and Craig Duncan will be looked to as will secondary performers Harold Dubose and Gallagher. Juniors Kadu Swift (linebacker) and cornerback Donald Wingerstahn will be players to keep an eye on.
As we hop in the car and head to the WESTERN REGION of the state, we come upon a pair of 2002 state runner-ups in the Tampa area.
Most felt that the Dragons of Tampa Jefferson were perhaps a quarterback away from winning the state title last year in 4A. This coming season, the Dragons, under head coach Mike Simmonds, have some major rebuilding to do.
On offense, this year's team will be all about a line that boasts seniors Josh Hamm and Matt Burgner, and juniors Frank Gil, Lonnie Hayes, Ryan Blasher and Blake Varino.
Senior receivers Antonio Graham and Chris Gilbert, versatile Khevin Peoples and kicker Garrett Myers combine with juniors Alex Suber (running back), fullback Joseph Quintana and receiver Dhonovan Simpson. There is also emerging star sophomore Tertavian Ingram.
On defense, lineman Kelvin Bryant, linebackers Almando Sapp and Edward Taylor, and secondary stars David Moses and Robert Baham. Junior lineman Antuan Lewis and defensive back Devin Giles will also add to this team.
The Tampa area also had a 5A team that made major strides a year ago. The Wharton Wildcats almost were the team of destiny before losing in the state finals.
Even though the team lost head coach Richard "Batman" Wood, there is still reason to be optimistic with senior receiver/quarterback Danny Wilford, lineman Alvin Semmons, tight end Kejaun Young and kicker Kyle Bronson. Also junior tight end Eric Whiting and fullback Clay Collins will also give this team plenty of talent.
On defense, senior defensive backs Ronald Pierre and Colby Clerie come back. So do quality juniors Deangelo Davis, Stephen Cox and Jovan Mitchell. Sophomore tackle Donte Davis is also a promising player.
As we wind up our first trip across the state, we head to the SOUTH REGION, where we will pay a visit on a pair of defending state champions.
After last year's convincing 5A state title run, Pompano Beach Ely figures to have the same kind of ability to do it all over again – this time in Gainesville.
Coach Steve Davis and his Tigers may have lost stars like Tyrone Moss, Andrew Bain, Cyrim Wimbs, Clint Session and Teraz McCray, but there is plenty returning.
On offense, running back Norris Smith leads a young but very impressive group. Receiver Corey Sanders is the only other senior starter returning. The junior class will make up most of the offense with quarterback Carlton Jackson, and linemen Rony Wilson and Adrian George. Sophomore running back Laron Graham will also be a player to keep an eye on.
Defensively, lineman Brandon Daniels hopes to shake off an injury to return the form his showed as a sophomore. South Plantation safety transfer Deveon Harris is another quality athlete. Defensive back Omar Hill, safety Rodney Etienne and corner Walter McFadden are three juniors who will make things happen.
Our final trip this week is down I-95 to Ives Dairy Road and west to 6A state champion Miami Norland, where head coach Nigel Dunn and the Vikings are still pinching themselves over the last second win against Edgewater in Tallahassee last December.
Norland graduated a number of tremendous football players but the cupboard is far from bare.
On offense, only senior lineman Romeo Joseph and junior fullback Ben Ferguson are back.
The defense, however, is the place where this team will build the 2003 team around as seniors Jason Dent, Michael Ogunlade, Darrell Dunnom, Antonio Dixon and cornerback Christopher Forbes return. Juniors Garrett White, standout defensive end Richard Gordon and Jeffery Martin return to give this team a boost.
That will do it for this week. I hope you enjoyed our trip across the state of Florida. We will do it again next week!