After a long offseason of conditioning and practices, the 2019 high-school football season has finally arrived. Here’s what’s in store for the schools covered by the West Orange Times & Observer.
It’s a new season for the CFCA Eagles, and no one could be happier than Head Coach Jeremy Campbell.
After going 2-9 in his first season back in 2017, Campbell led the Eagles to a 5-6 record last year — their best since the 2015 season.
“I’m very optimistic, quite honestly,” Campbell said. “We have a good group of guys who came back from last year’s team. We are young in some areas, but we have some depth in other areas where we lacked it before.
“We’re in a tough conference of the SSAC with OCP and Windermere Prep … it’s a tough district, but we are up to the challenge — that’s for sure,” he said.
Just like most coaches, Campbell will be counting on his starting quarterback to lead the way for his team.
Luckily, he has a solid returner in Keenan Milroy, who threw for 1,251 yards and four touchdowns and ran for two touchdowns last season. Unlike last season, however, there is some competition at the QB position as freshman Ty Gustafson has been looking strong in camp.
“He’s competing very well and it’s very close at this point,” Campbell said. “Luckily we don’t play tomorrow.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Campbell has the talent in the front seven to lock down opposing offenses.
Junior nose tackle Finley Voorheis will anchor down Campbell’s defense, while players like freshman Justin Preaster on the outside hope to shut down the passing game.
The talent level Campbell has now is probably some of the best he’s had since he took over at CFCA, and it’s a key aspect to being successful this season.
“We have the depth now to be able to compete and roll guys, and not worry about the talent level rolling off,” Campbell said.
FOUNDATION ACADEMY LIONS
With the new FHSAA playoff formula now in place, many schools coming into this season were looking to beef up their schedules.
While Foundation Head Coach Brad Lord has always scheduled good teams, the playoff change motivated him to put together one of the toughest schedules in Class 2A football.
“Two-A is very, very strong this year — the whole 2A statewide,” Lord said. “I checked it off the other day, and eight out of our 10 games are with ranked opponents in 2A or 3A. We have a tough schedule, and I think it’ll be good with the points system — especially with the RPIs — but I think if we stay healthy we should be able to compete with any of the teams we’ll be playing.”
The schedule for the Lions is not only difficult, but also backloaded. The Lions have a stretch of five games against teams — Trinity Christian Academy, TFA, Windermere Prep, University Christian and Orangewood Christian — that all made the playoffs last season.
Fortunately for Lord he returns a solid chunk of the offense that helped lead the Lions to a 9-3 record last season.
All-State players like Henry Austad and Danny Stutsman will be weapons for the Lions, and will lead a potent offense that averages about 24 points per game. Last season, Austad threw for 2,125 yards and 28 touchdowns, and rushed for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Stutsman racked up 650 receiving yards on 43 receptions and hauled in 11 touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions will be without two of the program’s best players in Warren Sapp II and Andrew Johns — who at the defensive end position, combined for 45 total sacks.
Despite that loss, Lord isn’t concerned, because he knows the guys he has coming back can handle the pressure of a difficult schedule.
“The good thing about it is we do have a veteran squad,” Lord said. “If we tackle, block and take care of the ball we should be fine.”
With the arrival of the new season, optimism runs rampant in the Legacy Eagles’ camp.
Despite a tough loss to end last season, the Eagles had one of their best years in program history, as they went 7-3 overall and 4-0 in the SSAC Florida Championship Series North — good enough for first place.
“We had a good season last year,” said Trent Hopper, the team’s head coach. “Our junior class last year was the biggest class we had, so they’re all grown up now and it’s their last year — there’s about 11 of them that can play. We are very optimistic.”
Outside of a few players lost to graduation, Hopper will see key cogs of his Eagles team return for the 2019-20 season.
Senior quarterback Jacob Worley will once again go under center, where he looks to build upon last year’s success that saw him throw for 1,539 yards and 20 total touchdowns (18 passing, two rushing). Adding to the offense will be the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver in Eli Post (491 receiving yards, four touchdowns), while the offensive line will be one of the team’s most experienced units.
“A lot of our offensive weapons are back, and we’re returning three offensive linemen in Noah Velazquez, Mac Long and Brody Thalmann,” Hopper said. “We’re looking real good on what we have returning offensively. We have a little bit of a building block on defense, but our offensive game should be pretty strong.”
The schedule, which kicks off with a preseason game against Halifax Academy on Friday, Aug. 16, is favorable enough that the Eagles should be able to dominate and match — or best — their win total from last season.
There is one team in particular that Hopper is eyeing, as far as it relates to gauging how good his team will be.
“We actually have a whole lot of new faces on there that we don’t know a whole lot about,” Hopper said. “St. Edwards is always a measuring stick — it’s usually the best-coached team that we play all year.”
If you ask Ocoee football Head Coach Aaron Sheppard how he feels about the upcoming season, he’ll give you the straightforward answer.
“It’s good — we feel pretty confident,” Sheppard said. “We’ve worked enough during the summer to be OK, and we should be competitive.”
The Knights have spent the last few weeks prepping for the new season in hopes of improving on a season that had its ups and downs.
Wins over Olympia and Lake Minneola highlight a 5-6 season that was filled with tough, close losses in Sheppard’s first year at the helm of the program.
In fact, in three of those six losses the Knights fell by a touchdown or less — which includes a one-point loss to Boone. If the ball had fallen another way, the Knights could have easily had an 8-3 season. Regardless, Sheppard’s first season was a smashing success when you consider the Knights went 1-9 in the 2017 season.
“We’re a tough team — we’ll get after you and we are physical and real gritty,” Sheppard said. “We have to find ways to win. Last year we had a lot of games we should have won, because we didn’t pull it together in the end, so we need to make sure we do that now.”
Though he has lost a few key guys from last season’s team — such as Jeremiah Fails, Matt Hogan and Kendall Bohler — Sheppard will once again look to a core group of seniors in receiver/corner Dexter Rentz, corner/strong safety Lovie Jenkins and quarterback Nick Wright to lead the Knights.
Looking ahead at this season, Sheppard will need his Knights to be ready to go as they take on a schedule featuring the likes of Apopka, Wekiva and West Orange, but he isn’t worried — he’s just ready to go.
“I’m just looking forward to playing and just getting out there and seeing what they got,” Sheppard said.
WEST ORANGE WARRIORS
It’s a new era for West Orange football, as the Warriors take to the field under the guidance of first-year head coach Dee Brown.
A former Syracuse running back and NFL player, Brown comes to West Orange High following a coaching stint at Rocky River (Mint Hill, North Carolina).
“I was very excited about being a first-year coach, seeing what we had coming out of the spring and what we needed to work on,” Brown said. “We needed to get bigger and stronger, and we did that. We really honed in on the weight room and conditioning this season — our guys have said, ‘This is the most lifting and running we’ve done since we’ve been here.’”
Coming into the new season, Brown inherits a lot of the talent that last year led the Warriors to a 7-4 season — including a talented backfield with senior backs Nemea Hall and Sinica Sigler.
While he has decided to start sophomore Julian Calvez at the quarterback position, Brown is also planning on utilizing a two-QB system.
“I know a lot of coaches don’t do it, and that’s their problem,” Brown said. “I do it for the simple fact that I feel like offensively — in my past — if we are good enough, we can do that with two quarterbacks. If you have two good quarterbacks, you should play them, because you never know what’ll happen.”
Despite the loss of wide receiver Darrell Harding — who is about to start his freshman year on the Duke football team — Brown has two of his fastest skill players in Jaylon Carlies and Matthew McDoom on the outside.
That offense, along with a defense loaded with talented players like safety/corner Tyler Jones, should make the Warriors a fun sight to behold, Brown said.
“I know West Orange is in the public eye, and they think we’re going to be down, but all I can say is, ‘If God keeps waking you up this fall on Fridays, come check us out,’” Brown said.