Spring Football Games
Thursday, May 16
Sebastian River vs. Harmony, 7:30 pm
(at Austin-Tindall Park)
Friday, May 17
Colonial at Celebration, 7 p.m.
Palm Bay Heritage at Liberty, 7 p.m.
Edgewater at Osceola, 7 p.m.
Poinciana at St. Cloud, 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 23
Tohopekaliga at Gateway, 7 p.m.
Didn’t we just put the football pads away recently?
Osceola, Gateway and Harmony, who made the Class 8A and 7A playoffs last season, played just five months ago. The rest of the county teams ended their seasons a week earlier.
Twenty practice periods will be followed by a spring game – no county team will leave Osceola County for their game, played May 16-17 except for a first-ever meeting between Gateway and its relief school, Tohopekaliga, on May 23. Those games are little more than the final practice against another team that the public is invited to. (“I’ve only won two of them,” said 14-year veteran coach Doug Nichols of Liberty and Osceola)
The game may have a little more meaning at St. Cloud, where Poinciana visits the Bulldogs on May 17. The Eagles will hit someone wearing a different color for the first time under new head coach Randy Beeken, who takes over after Phillip Prior coached them to a 2-8 mark before taking a job at his alma mater in Tampa.
The Bulldogs will look to polish rising junior quarterback Garhett King, who became the starter midway through his sophomore season and still managed to throw for nearly 1,000 yards as St. Cloud won its final four games to finish 4-6. A new offensive playmaker will have to emerge to replace all-everything Seth Johnson, who is West Florida bound.
Beeken, the county’s only new head coach, said he should have his full coaching staff of 10 in place by the spring game. There were about 45 players at Monday’s opening workout.
“That’s the strongest numbers we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Beeken, who was a PHS assistant the last four seasons.
Osceola was 9-2 and won an eighth-straight district title, but disappointingly – for the second time in three years – lost in the opening round of the playoffs. Coach Doug Nichols likely won’t be tinkering May 17 against Edgewater with an offense that returns its most explosive skill players, like quarterback Devon Wells and running backs DeWayne McGee (he of a 1,000-yard junior year), Roshaun Dudley, Jymon Coleman and Jamison Jones. Defensive Coordinator Scott Spencer will be looking to fill holes created by graduation. He’s losing linemen Mario Kendricks (DE, Virginia Tech signee) and Boris Espinosa, linebackers Kiyante Harrison and Najah Sylvester and defensive backs Jaylon Harris, Malachi Wilson and Dyshawn Baker.
Harmony went 9-2 in 2018 and won its first district title since 2007. While defensively the Longhorns will be solid with returning starters Jonah Runnells, Elijah Gunn, Trey Hayes, Kareem and Akheem Dinzey Ryan Carroll and Chase Henry, the offense will have to replace a lot of key parts, like three-year starting quarterback Nate Herstich, 999-yard runner Justin Gleason and receiver Caeleb Bass.
Coach Don Simon said junior Chris Skeldon and sophomore Keaghan Black will be auditioning this spring to be Herstich’s heir apparent.
Liberty, after a school-best 9-2 season that included a bowl win, is also replacing quarterback Jaelen Ray, who accounted for 2,500 yards and 45 touchdowns himself. Sophomore John Smith is a frontrunner for that job.
Celebration and Coach Jay Sobke gear up for a fall year that will see the Storm compete in Class 8A for the first time, alongside the likes of Osceola, Freedom and Cypress Creek, that latter who they beat for one of two 2018 wins.
Gateway, with smaller numbers due to Tohopekaliga opening, goes the other direction this year, dropping to Class 6A after making the 8A playoffs three of the past four seasons.
Coach Marlin Roberts has also begun looking for a quarterback to replace graduating Maurice Adams. JV callup Jared Wright and baseball athlete Josh Jacobs are in the running, Roberts said, and could lead the Panthers offense when they take on the Tigers for the first time in the spring game May 23.
The Tigers have a more veteran coaching staff around Coach Anthony Davis going into their second season after kickstarting the program with a 2-8 season.