Find Orlando Family Magazine on Facebook! Follow Orlando Family Magazine on Twitter! Orlando Family Magazine RSS Feed

Fall Sports Preview 2017: Football

A look at what to expect from the upcoming season of high-school football

Dr. Phillips High School’s BeSean McCray

Apopka Blue Darters

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Following the end of last season, Apopka lost 11 players to graduation, but they’ll have plenty of returning talent on both sides of the ball as they set out to repeat as District 8A-4 champions. Offensive players expected back include linemen Will Barnes and Shaderrick Bradford, who were All-Metro last year, as well as Ed Montilus, who was 8A All-State, with Steven Billings-Larson Jr. back at RB. Defensive heavyweights should include CB Chance Bush and DE Mychal Austin.

OUTLOOK: The Blue Darters are coming off a strong season in which they swept District 8A-4 and went 10-1 overall to earn a berth in the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) regional quarterfinals. Unfortunately, the sole loss was a result of their first postseason matchup against Timber Creek—and by a single heartbreaking point, no less. Expect Coach Rick Darlington to push his team to achieve even more this year.

Boone Braves

PLAYERS TO WATCH: “We have 14 returning starters led on defense by All- Metro players Jay Swegheimer and Jack Dixson, and All-Metro honorable- mention players C.J. Reeves and Devonte Booker,” says Braves coach Andy Johnson. “Jaxsen Anagnostis returns to lead the offense at QB, along with returning RB DaiOne Creal. Desmond Demando, Reece Blankenship and Justin Thomas return, as well, as starting offensive linemen. Kicker Jonathan DeLucca will be a three-year starter and one of the top kickers in the nation.”

OUTLOOK: In 2016, the Braves finished third in District 8A-4 play while going 2-2 against division opponents, which wasn’t quite enough to get them to the Class 8A regional quarterfinals. With so much talent returning this year, though, look for younger players to coalesce around the veterans as Johnson helps them find ways to edge out Timber Creek and Winter Park in the upcoming season.

Celebration Storm

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Celebration’s returning players will be spearheaded by Peter Garcia, a senior who can play guard, defensive lineman and linebacker. Other incoming seniors expected to make a strong impact include QB Timothy Cantwell, tackle Lavelle Howard, safeties Kris Kelley and Austin Martins, defensive end Bailey Maisonette and kicker Flethcher Trowsdale. The Storm will be fielding a relatively young team, though, with plenty of opportunities for up-and-comers to make their presence known, including sophomores Lee Smith IV (WR) and Yuriel Carrero (defensive lineman), and junior linebacker Jaheim Sutton.

OUTLOOK: There’s no denying that 2016 was tough for the Storm, who finished fifth in District 7A-5 on the strength of a 3-7 season in which they won just one game against district opponents. On the plus side, though, there’s almost nowhere to go but up as Coach Joel Smeenge helps his players find a way to turn their fortunes around.

Colonial Grenadiers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Although he’s coming in as a junior, safety Tivon Sutton might have the biggest impact on the Grenadiers’ fortunes in 2017, while junior quarterback Tanner Bozeman continues to mature under center. Returning seniors are expected to include the 6’4”, 262-pound defensive tackle Justin Nelson, linebacker Héctor Quiñones, wideout Sheldon Thompson and tackle Leondre Andreas, and junior linebacker Kahmare Tyler should make some moves, too.

OUTLOOK: Granted, Colonial lost about half its team to graduation after last season. Given that they went 2-7 and finished fourth in District 8A-3, though, new blood might be just what Coach Clint Johnson and his returning players need to make a stronger stand against division rivals like Winter Park and Timber Creek. Finding ways to beat those powerhouses will be critical as the team works to make its mark in the new season.

Cypress Creek Bears

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Cypress Creek will be swimming in experienced talent in 2017. On offense, top players should include quarterback Sylvens Sinophat, receivers Jordan Webber and Najee Freeman, running backs Warren White and Nick Ettiene, fullback William Enriquez, tight end Henry Jaquez, and linemen Johnny Quarterman and Uzochi Oparaji. Led by linebacker Jaunet Archer, the defensive squad’s returners will include cornerback Xavier White and linebacker Pharbby Hyacinthe.

OUTLOOK: Although the Bears didn’t make 2016’s regional quarterfinals, Coach Shaun Lorenzano likes their prospects going into the new year. “Coming off the school’s best season in a decade, there are big expectations for 2017,” he says. “With strong senior leadership and a dedicated and committed underclass, 2017 should be a banner year for the Bears. [We] fully expect to compete for a district championship and a playoff spot.”

Dr. Phillips Panthers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Defensive standouts should include cornerbacks Tanner Ingle and Braxton Clark, defensive ends/linebackers Joe Gulla and Brice Ingram, defensive lineman Christian Williams, and outside linebacker Jaquarri Powell. The offense will be led by senior quarterback BeSean McCray, who will get experienced help from receiver Davarius Bargnare, running back Devodney Alford, offensive lineman John Campbell and kicker Sterling Stockwell.

OUTLOOK: Given that last year’s squad was ranked No. 15 in the state and No. 1 in District 8A-5, and lost the 8A championship to Miami Southridge by just 4 points, this year’s team has a proud legacy to uphold. “We had an awesome group of seniors that led us to the 8A State Championships,” says Panthers Coach Rodney Wells. “Thirteen of those guys signed scholarships. The underclassmen have been patiently waiting and are anxious to make a name for themselves.”

East River Falcons

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Returning Falcons in 2017 include QB Tyler O’Hara, running back Jose Garcia, receiver Nykie Marion, offensive linemen Braden Yurick and Hunter Atkinson, linebacker A.J. Mingus, and defensive linemen Brandon Gaherity and Louis Valsaint.

OUTLOOK: “I believe we have the ability and athleticism to be a pretty solid team this season,” says new Edgewater Coach Tony Piccalo, whose team was District 7A-5’s champions last year. “Obviously, me coming in the week before spring ball started puts us a little behind. We have depth issues in both our offensive and defensive lines, but we have some pretty good skill kids. We aren’t big like most of our opponents, but I believe we have the speed to make up for that.” Piccalo also notes that kicking will be key, and adds, “Bottom line is, I believe our success will be dependent on how the players commit to our program this summer.”

Edgewater Eagles

Edgewater Eagles

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Returning defensive players include linebackers Jalen Taylor and Joe Miller, along with defensive linemen Quondarrius Whitfield, Jay Ward, Malik Prioleau, Jahsimeon Campblin, Kyarell Johnson, Abdul Harmon and Nate White. On offense, QBs Robert Harvey and Joe Nieves will duel for the starting position, where they’ll be joined by running back Isaiah Connelly and offensive lineman David Anderton.

OUTLOOK: “Restore the Pride” is the Eagles’ motto going into 2017. “We want to do this on and off the field as a program,” says Coach Cameron Duke. “The players have been working hard in the weight room and in the classroom this off-season as we build towards the 2017 season. The new coaches are excited about laying the foundation of the Edgewater football program, and spring practices have been full of energy and the players have done a great job of rebuilding the pride back into Edgewater football.”

Evans Trojans

PLAYERS TO WATCH: With Evans finishing last in District 8A-4 last season, and not winning any games against district opponents, returning players this season will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves. Cornerbacks Tyrees Bell and Malik Glover—who can also play quarterback—will be forces to reckon with on defense, as will defensive lineman Stanley Mentor. Quarterback Kimani Binder, who stands 6’3”, should be back under center, where he’ll get plenty of assists from offensive lineman Daniel Vincent.

OUTLOOK: “We are working extremely hard for the upcoming year to provide the school and the community with a new, improved product on the field,” says Trojans Coach Greg Thompson, whose team finished last in District 8A-4 last season. “Kids have finally brought into what I call a new culture of football at Orlando’s Evans High School. Our focus is commitment to excellence through hard work and consistency.”

The First Academy Royals

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Alex Eleyssami is expected to have the starting quarterback job, with offensive linemen Treylan Barton and Robert Smith working hard to keep him safe. Other offensive weapons will include wideout Parker Mara, running back Rolous Frazier, and tight ends Hunter Smallback and Mike Shanahan. On the other side of the ball, linebacker J.L. Fleming and defensive tackle Jackson Toth should shine.

OUTLOOK: The First Academy is coming off an undefeated regular season in District 3A-3, but an early exit from the playoffs proves they have work to do, according to Coach Leroy Kinard. “The strength of this year’s team will be the offensive line, which returns four starters from last year’s unit,” he says, adding that they’ll be led by very solid quarterback play as they work to integrate more passing into their wing-T scheme. “If the young players improve, they should have a solid season.”

Freedom Patriots

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Patriots’ 2016 quarterback, Max Thomas, will be back as a senior this year, but he’ll likely face some competition for the starting spot from sophomore Nick Wright. No matter who’s taking the snaps, they’ll get strong assists from receiver Dorshley Michel, guard Oliver Walker III and fullback Marc Dillard. On defense, top returning players should include linebackers Jacob Andromidas, Noah Mazza and Edward Kortum, as well as free safety Amyas Collazo.

OUTLOOK: Freedom’s 2016 team only managed to win one game, but at least it was against a district opponent. As they head into the 2017 season, Coach Carl Holden and his players will be eager to prove themselves. Granted, they might not have a realistic shot against district rival (and state powerhouse) Dr. Phillips, but better play against Oak Ridge and Cypress Creek could give them the edge they need.

Jones Tigers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: When you consider the amount of skilled players who will be back this season, Jones fans have to be excited about the team’s prospects in 2017. Defensive standouts are likely to include cornerback Sevyn Banks, defensive ends Stacy Kirby and Jaylen Joyner, cornerback Terrell Ware and strong safety Marcus Tillman Jr. Accomplished quarterback Quadry Jones will lead the offense, which should also include running back Aaron Thompson, wideouts Jequan Burton and Kerby Joseph, and guards Bryan Moore and Marlo Tillman.

OUTLOOK: Under Coach Elijah Williams, the Fightin’ Tigers had an outstanding 2016 season, finishing 10-2 overall, 3-1 against fellow District 4A-5 teams and making it to the regional finals before losing by a single touchdown to Cocoa. Better still, with so much talent expected to return this year, the more experienced squad could go even further in the postseason.

Lake Highland Prep Highlanders

PLAYERS TO WATCH: This fall, Lake Highland will be led by 17 seniors who will build on last year’s winning season—and they’ll undoubtedly have an eye on even more success in 2017. Key returners from 2016 include quarterback Elijah Lucas, tight end/defensive end Bryton Belvin, linebacker Jimmy Lomas, running back/defensive back Desmond King, offensive/ defensive lineman Leo Leonce, linebacker Luis Rivera, running back/cornerback Brit Allen and kicker Brandon Nguyen.

OUTLOOK: The Highlanders are excited for their first fall under the leadership of new head football coach Ben Bullock. In addition to coaching college football for nearly a decade, Bullock previously coached at Mount Dora High School and Ocoee High School. In 2016, Bullock led the latter team to their first district title in school history, and he’s reportedly grateful to Highland Nation for the warm welcome he’s received.

Lake Howell Silverhawks

PLAYERS TO WATCH: With a large portion of last year’s Silverhawks team graduating after the season, returning and new players will have a great opportunity to make their marks. Defensive stars should include cornerback Steven Mackey Jr., tackle Deandre Gordon, free safety Graham Spalding and linebacker Maxwell Askew. Lionel “L.J.” Matos is expected to be the team’s starting quarterback, where he’ll work with receivers Kenyon’ta Skinner and Sean Russaw.

OUTLOOK: “I am very excited for the upcoming fall season,” says Lake Howell Coach Dave Wensyel. “We had a solid offseason and a great spring season. We have a lot of young athletes that are working very hard to be solid contributors, and a talented group of veterans that will lead the way. We need to finish the offseason strong with our summer program. All in all, I believe this season could be a very successful one for the Silverhawks.”

Lake Mary Prep Griffins

PLAYERS TO WATCH: A number of notable Griffins will return in 2017. They include quarterback Walker Dycus, offensive/defensive lineman Seth Cloutier, wide receivers Judah Winfrey and Chace Ogden (who also plays safety), running back/linebacker Jessie Freelander, linebacker/receiver Andy Allison, defensive back David Melillo, linebacker/offensive lineman Andy Browning and running back/defensive back Camden Desch.

OUTLOOK: “This is going to be an exciting year for Lake Mary Prep [LMP] football,” says Coach Zac Carter. “This group of kids has a great mix of both veterans and young players. It allows our upper classmen to learn to lead and our younger players to learn ‘the Griffin Way.’ It is an exciting position for a program to be in. Our team works hard each and every day to try to get better at their craft. If this team stays hungry and humble, there is no ceiling for this group of kids.”

Lake Nona High School’s Michael Kern

Lake Nona Lions

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Wide receiver Anthony Queely was one of just two Lake Nona players to be named to last year’s Class 7A All-State team, and he’ll be back as a senior in 2017. He’s sure to be a favorite target for QB Michael Kern, with running back Logan Hale also expected to play. The defense has returners to get excited about, too, such as linebacker Victor Vega III and cornerbacks Anthony Manning and Randall Hepburn Jr.

OUTLOOK: “We are going to continue to ‘do what we do’ here with Lions football,” says Coach Anthony Paradiso, “and we want every parent, player, [members of the] student body, faculty, administration and community to ‘be the tradition.’” They’ll also be looking to defeat East River, who edged them out for bragging rights in District 7A-5 last season, and make it past the opening round of this year’s Class 7A championship series.

The Master’s Academy Eagles

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Master’s Academy (TMA) has a lot of returning talent this season, and hopefully, they can come together and find a way to improve their standing against district opponents. Players to watch will include quarterback Matthew Gillis, wide receiver Kenny Bradshaw, running back Mossett Matthews, defensive end/offensive tackle Kyle Whelan, linebacker Nick Doyle, linebacker/wide receiver Trey Calcutt, tight end/defensive end Marcus McCoy, safety/running back Zack Rodriguez and safety/wide receiver Jax Johnson.

OUTLOOK: “The TMA 2017 football motto is 1-percent, small, continuous efforts of improvement,” says Coach Malik Sherman, whose team competes in Sunshine State—Coastal Beach Football independent league. “In a competitive world, 100- percent effort is expected, so if you work 1 percent harder than that daily, at year’s end, you’re 365- percent better.” If Sherman can push them to achieving that kind of improvement, anything is possible.

Oak Ridge Pioneers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Leading the charge for returning Oak Ridge players is quarterback Darvion Bailey, who should continue to mature as a player and person in his senior year. Also coming back are wideouts Kevin Moran and Marcus Taylor, plus running back Xavier Carpenter. On defense, look for end Connor Parks and cornerback Titus Jackson to make an impact.

OUTLOOK: “We have a young group of kids, but I think we have some really good senior leadership, and so I think we’ll be a highly competitive team week in and week out,” says Pioneers Coach Clint Johnson. “I think if we get on an early run as far as winning some games early in the season, I think we can definitely challenge for a playoff position.” Standing in the way of that goal will be fellow District 8A-5 teams Dr. Phillips and Olympia, which beat Oak Ridge in their meetings last year.

Ocoee Knights

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ocoee’s offense will benefit from the return of such players as quarterback Myles Holder, running back Tyrese Taylor, offensive linemen Matt Hogan and Tyler Lewis, and wide receivers Jeremiah Fails, Lovie Jenkins and Garrett Duffina. On defense, the Knights will be led by linebackers Nasir Carter and Chris Benton, defensive backs Kendall Bohler and Hunter Mercer, and defensive linemen Zach Tuckfield and Charles Jenkins.

OUTLOOK: “Ocoee is coming off a 2016 district [7A-4] championship and looking for similar success in the 2017 season,” says Knights Coach Jason Boltus, further noting that his players just enjoyed a 22-0 victory in their spring game. “As a team, our mindset is, ‘Good players inspire themselves, great players inspire others.’ [I’m] trying to get every player in the program to buy into the things happening at Ocoee High School [and] build a brand.”

Olympia Titans

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Players to watch on the Titans’ offense should include wideouts Jordan Underwood and Shane Hooks, plus running back Robin Green, strong back Corey Jackson and 6’2” center Josh Hearst. The defense will have plenty of returning talent, too, including cornerback Josh Green, linebacker James Lynch Jr., defensive end Troy Golden, and strong safeties Ronald Teague and Khadry Jackson.

OUTLOOK: Although the Titans’ performance last season was good enough to get them into the Class 8A championship race, they faltered in the regional quarterfinals against Riverview. Without a doubt, Coach Kyle Hayes’ players will be eager to expand on that success in 2017— and find a way to take out chief district rival Dr. Phillips. Success will depend equally on this year’s seniors stepping into leadership roles, and younger players coming into their own on the field.

Timber Creek High School’s Peter Hayes

Timber Creek Wolves

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Wolves’ bench was severely depleted by graduation at the end of last season, but they still have some big names coming back, including running back Peter Hayes-Patrick, who was an All-Metro honorable mention last year as a sophomore. Other offensive stars are expected to include wideouts Erik Franks and Jordyn Donawa, plus running back Brendon Lightsey. Senior linebackers Elias Fontanez and Parker Smith will provide leadership on defense.

OUTLOOK: Despite coming in second in District 8A-3 competition to Winter Park, Timber Creek had a great season in 2016. Considering that Winter Park also stopped them from advancing past last year’s regional semifinals, it’s a safe bet that finding ways to beat their primary rival will be Coach Jim Buckridge’s top priority. With such a young team, doing so won’t be easy, but with strong moves from up-and-coming younger players, victory could be within reach.

Trinity Prep Saints

PLAYERS TO WATCH: “We had talent here last year; we were very young,” says Saints Coach Mike Kruczek. “We’ve returned some really outstanding skill-position players, including a very talented young quarterback who’s a junior, Spencer Fetter. Chris Cayo is our 225-pound running back; Alec Holler, wide receiver, [and] Josh Nemec, wide receiver, return, both with well over 30 catches last year, and we added two young receivers who look really good in the spring: Mikey Evans and Phil Clarke.”

OUTLOOK: “I have high expectations,” says Kruczek. “I think this season we’ll get back on track as we had the first three years I was here.” Kruczek adds that, as a result of the Florida High School Coaches Association doing away with districts at the 3A level, the team now has to travel all over the state and play public high schools in order to schedule 10 games. Doing so is a challenge, but Trinity is up for it.

University Cougars

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Coming back for his final year of high-school play, quarterback Brandon Barbee will be responsible for getting the most out of University’s other offensive weapons, which are expected to include receivers Amechi Uzodinma II and Terrence Fields, as well as running backs Devoe Thomas Jr. and Iesham Johnson. Defensive standouts should include safeties Mekhi De La Cruz-Greene and Isaac Walker.

OUTLOOK: With only one win to their credit in 2016, and having been shut out by other District 8A-3 teams, the Cougars are looking forward to a shot at redemption in the new season. If Coach Jim Pusateri can figure out how to make the most of returning players and newcomers, they should at least be able to improve their fortunes against Boone and Colonial—but their annual games against Winter Park and Timber Creek will really let them know where they stand in 2017.

Wekiva Mustangs

PLAYERS TO WATCH: As a sophomore, defensive lineman Tyler Davis represented the Mustangs on last year’s All-Metro team, and he’ll be back again this season. Also expected to be forces to reckon with on defense are cornerbacks Jarvis Ware and Renardo Green, as well as safeties Brandon Hill, Jarvis Hanks, Dwight Lawrence and Cayvian Holmes. Offensive standouts should include receivers C.J. Young and Terrence Moore, with newcomer Sean Robles expected to start at quarterback.

OUTLOOK: Mentored by Coach Rich Bedesem, Wekiva had a great year in 2016, placing second in District 8A-4 and making it to the postseason. In a heartbreaking turn of events, though, they lost to Timber Creek by a single point in the regional quarterfinals, so they’ll be looking to improve their fortunes this time out. If they can figure out a way to beat district rival Apopka, the rest should be smooth sailing.

West Orange Warriors

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Expect juniors Elijah Stimmell, Marshall Darden and Ryan Wills to all compete for the starting quarterback job as West Orange heads into the 2017 season. Other offensive starters should include wideouts Keyshawn Goins and Joshua Gaskins, plus running back Nemea Hall and guard Hawke Forsythe. Their prospects look even better on defense, with safeties Austin Chilton and Davon Earle, cornerback Xavier Wong, linebacker Dametri Hill Jr., and defensive ends Franklin Jackson III and Brennan Harrell slotted to be back.

OUTLOOK: Coach Bob Head and the Warriors had a rough go of it in 2016, finishing third in 8A-4 and winning just two games all year. With many of last year’s starters graduating at the end of the season, though, returning and new players alike will be starting from a relatively clean slate as they work to turn around their school’s fortunes and earn themselves some football glory.

Winter Park Wildcats

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Players to watch: Cameron LeGree, who was named to last year’s All- Metro team as a junior, is expected to once again be Winter Park’s starting quarterback. With the team’s other 2016 All-Metro players lost to graduation, other players will be out to prove themselves, including receiver Brian Gomez, running back Jaedyn Thomas, cornerback E.J. Jimenez, linebackers Juanye Tillman and Kody Johnson, and safeties Cullen Honohan, Malik Tolbert, Jordan Manning and Marcus Clarke.

OUTLOOK: After going undefeated against district rivals, Coach Tim Shifflet’s Wildcats emerged as the No. 1 team in District 8A-3, earning them a postseason berth in which they ultimately lost out to Seminole in the regional finals round. A repeat of that success could be difficult, though, as many of last year’s starters have graduated, but given the school’s winning tradition, don’t be surprised if they remain the team to beat in their district.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s July 2017 issue.