High school football returns Friday with kickoff classics

The Osceola Kowboys will have a tough test on Friday when they take on Lakeland.

It’s back!

Although none of the contests will count in the final records, high school football returns to Osceola County on Friday night as all eight public schools will play in pre-season Kickoff Classics.

This year’s edition of county football promises to be both exciting and intriguing, as at least six teams have stated goals of making the state playoffs in November.

Most coaches say they have been pleased with the first two weeks of training camps that opened July 29, but heavy rains have hampered preparations for almost all county teams.

St. Cloud, under head coach Bryan Smart, finished at 4-6 last season, but won its final four games of the season and will open with a pre-season game against Deltona on Friday night.  Smart says he views the game as “an opportunity for our kids to hit someone other than a teammate,” and says his squad is anxious to get the season going.

“We’ve had a pretty good fall camp,” Smart noted.  “The weather started playing havoc with our scheduled and forced a lot of practices into the gym, especially in the afternoon.”  

He added that practices have been going pretty much as expected but noted his running backs trio of Romeo Medina, Patrick Forsythe and Ronny Ramos have more than picked up the slack for departing senior Seth Johnson.  

“I think we are going to have both talent and depth at running back, which is surprisingly given the great player we lost,” Smart noted.

Harmony, which finished at 9-2 last season and qualified for the post-season will open with a preseason game at Boone High School before getting ready for a much-anticipated regular season opener with traditional county power Osceola High School.

“We’ve seen good and a little bad on both sides of the ball, but I think our defense has played a little better than I expected at this point,” Longhorns Coach Don Simon said.  He added that his opponent on Friday would provide a good test for his young team.  

“We scheduled them because we knew they were good on both sides of the ball and would provide our young team with a good test. “

Simon added that the pre-season game would help prepare his team for Osceola.

“We scheduled Boone because we knew they were sound on both sides of the ball and would test our team.  I anticipate seeing a well-disciplined team that will challenge us on both offense and defense,” he said. “It’s the type of test we are going to need when we face Osceola in the opener. “

The Kowboys, which has won nine or more games and qualified for the post-season eight times in a row under Doug Nichols, is one of the few teams that have not seen its pre-season affected by the weather.  

“Knock on wood, we are 10 for 10 in being able to practice outdoors,” Nichols noted. “Other than a 90-minute delay for lightning last week, we’ve been fortunate.”

Nichols said that preparations for the 2019 season have been going well.  “I guess the biggest thing is that we have been able to get a lot accomplished depth wise. We have had a lot of freshmen and sophomores step up and show they have the potential to help us this year, and although they will not start, they will get quality reps during the season. We are still very young at linebacker and in the secondary, but this camp has helped us at those positions.”

Osceola will face more than a stern test in the kickoff classic, traveling to defending state champion Lakeland.

 “I guess from a rivalry standpoint, some people will make a big deal about it,” Nichols said. “But we are going to treat it like any other practice or scrimmage. My main goal is to play the varsity starters for a quarter or a quarter and a half and then use the rest of the game to see what we have on the bench.  They might beat us 50-0, but that’s OK.  “Our goal is to stay healthy and play a lot of players.”

Gateway opens its season with a Kickoff Classic against offensive-minded Lake Nona. For the first time in a number of years, Head Coach Marlin Roberts says he will treat this game differently in the past.

“We try to be competitive and win every game. Even though the game doesn’t count in the record books, we always try to instill in the players that winning every game is important,” Roberts said. “I honestly have to say that both myself as a head coach and our staff collectively are looking at this game differently. It’s going to be a scrimmage and an opportunity to play a lot of kids, and use it first and foremost as a learning experience. “

Roberts noted he had 49 kids in uniform for the first couple of weeks, but hopes to have a dozen more by the first week of the season.  

“We have depth issues,” Roberts noted. “Hopefully we can get some more kids out in the next week.”

On a positive side, Roberts noted that senior running back Philip Bangura has looked exceptional in training camp, and he may have found a diamond in the rough in freshman Gabriel Santiago. “I saw Gabriel in the gym and I kept begging him to come out for football. His first love is basketball, but he kept telling me he wasn’t sure he would like football.  It’s been two weeks and he tells me he’s loving it.  He’s already getting reps with the starting defensive line and at 6-4, 230 he already looks like a man out there.  As he gets more acclimated to football, he could be a star in the making.”

Liberty will host Viera in its Kickoff Classic on Friday.  Brandon Pennington’s charges won a school record nine games last year, but it did not win the district and did not qualify for the playoffs under the current point system.

The Chargers will count on junior quarterback John Smith to keep its offense running after departing senior Jalen Ray (29 touchdowns) led Liberty to its best record in school history.  

Celebration will travel to Teneroc in its preseason game on Friday. Poinciana hopes to get off on a positive note as it hosts Cypress Creek in its Kickoff Classic.

The Eagles fortunes will rest on senior transfer quarterback Justin Carpenter, who threw for five touchdowns against St. Cloud in Poinciana’s spring game.

Under head coach Marc Deas, Tohopekaliga is another county school with post-season aspirations after a 2-7 first-year campaign in 2018. The Tigers will travel to Avon Park for its preseason game on Friday.