By Ken Jackson
With a few exceptions, Kickoff Classic football games have “preseason” stamped all over them.
Coaches want to see how new combinations, like offensive and defensive lines, linebacker units and defensive backfields, work together. Some starting spots are still up for grabs.
That’s exactly how St. Cloud Coach Bryan Smart is playing it Friday when the Bulldogs head to Orlando to play Boone — and try to lock in their starting quarterback.
Junior Koron Perrin and sophomore Garrett King put up a spirited competition in a intrasquad scrimmage in May ahead of the spring game at Lake Minneola. But that game was postponed by rain three days, and thanks to a slippery football and turnovers in a lopsided loss, Smart wasn’t able to get a great grasp of how they grasp the offense, as the defense played an awful lot that night.
“I don’t know who will get the first snap Friday, let alone against Osceola (on Aug. 31), that’s how close and tough the competition’s been,” Smart said. “It’ll be a tough game Friday, we haven’t had much success in the three years we’ve played Boone.”
Smart had to re-tool the coaching staff in the offseason; offensive coordinator Codie Nieder (who also coached the Lady Bulldogs flag football team) moved to Michigan, and other pieces moved around.
“It’s definitely been a strange offseason, but the kids have been great,” Smart said. “We had a real good first week of practice and the kids are just working their butts off to be ready.”
Gateway, a playoff team in 2015 and ’17, hopes to get the ’18 season started positively when the Panthers host Tampa Freedom in Friday’s Kickoff Classic at 7 p.m.
The offense returns its backfield — game-managing quarterback Maurice Adams and running backs Phillip Bangura and Tyler Tyrell, who combined for 1,120 rushing yards last year — and the linebacker corps has been shored up with the emergence of Robert Martinez and Isaiah Simmons.
But, Coach Marlin Roberts said them, and others, may have to contribute on offense, defense and special teams for the Panthers to be successful again this year.
“It looks like we’ll have a lot of our best guys going both ways,” he said. “I look around at the ones who’d be our varsity backups, and they aren’t here, they’re at the new school up the road. But I like our top guys from last year, they’re willing to battle, it’s just going to come down to, how much do you have left in the fourth quarter?”
Speaking of the Tigers, they’ll take the field for the first time in a full-pads game situation Friday at Orlando University, where they’ll take on the Cougars and Freedom in a half a piece starting at 6 p.m.
Liberty will debut under new head coach Brandon Pennington at home Friday when the Chargers host Palatka at 7.
“The fall’s played out the way we expected so far,” he said. “We’ve found some new bodies who could potentially play well on the defensive line. We’re feeling all right about our front seven. There’s talented potential there, just can we get them to perform.”
The Chargers have already lined up against another team in pads — they were part of an FHSAA officiating clinic at Lake Mary last week, and got to play quarters against Seminole County schools.
Poinciana will also see how it looks under a new coach. Phillip Prior leads the Eagles at Clearwater International Academy on Friday.
Many things old are new again at Harmony, where the Longhorns will host Palm Bay Bayside at 7 p.m. Quarterback Nate Herstich, who rewrote many of the school’s and county’s passing record books last year, goes into his third season leading the Longhorns’ up-tempo offense.