Jon Santucci: 6 questions for the 2020 prep football season
Spring football practices would have started Monday.
As with so many things happening in the world, those words almost appear to be from an alternate universe.
With school campuses closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Florida High School Athletic Association announced last week that it was canceling all spring sports — including football practice.
Even without spring football, coaches still are preparing for the 2020 season. Here are some of the biggest questions that need to be answered during the next few months.
1. Will there be a high school football season this fall?
Let's get to the elephant in the room. The coronavirus has shut down sports around the world and prompted the Summer Olympics in Tokyo to be delayed a year. So, will we have a football season with games beginning in mid-August? Obviously, no one knows. Most athletic directors on the Treasure Coast are cautiously optimistic that there will be a fall football season. What no one knows is what that could look like. Will there be any fans in the stands? If so, is it a limited amount with families seated at least six feet apart? But, with everything going on right now, nothing is certain.
2. Will the FHSAA allow teams to have some version of spring practices during the summer and when can teams begin working out?
Coaches value the spring for multiple reasons. It's when they install their base offenses and defenses, hold position competitions and teach fundamentals. Perhaps more than any other sport, football requires proper technique to avoid serious injury. Coaches want a version of spring practices in the summer, even if they're not full contact. Multiple athletic directors have floated the idea of starting earlier than the current July 27 date. An earlier start date could be the easiest compromise.
As for when players can start doing organized workouts, this also is a question with many moving parts. It doesn't start with the FHSAA but it may end with the organization. What happens if one county allows campuses to be open for workouts and another doesn't? The FHSAA has been hesitant to set state-wide mandates as it relates to the coronavrus, but if some football coaches are shut out while others can begin training, it will be a competitive balance issue. There's also the issue of what a return looks like. Is it a maximum of 10 players in the weight room at a time to start? Will there be new protocols for cleaning the weight room and monitoring student health? The FHSAA would be smart to monitor how the state is being reopened and attempt to set one state-wide target date for offseason workouts.
3. Which teams have the biggest holes to fill?
Let's start with the quarterbacks. Vero Beach, St. Lucie West Centennial and Jensen Beach all were playoff teams last fall who must now replace quarterbacks who earned all-area honors. Blayne Watkins and Dylan Duchene were multi-year starters at Centennial and Jensen Beach, respectively, while Vero Beach's Ryan Jankowski is a finalist for TCPalm's All-Area Offensive Player of the Year. Those programs — and any others trying to break in a new quarterback — have a complicated situation as they won't have 7-on-7 competitions or the spring to help make their decisions.
Sebastian River's defense will look drastically different without All-American tackle Tim Smith. Okeechobee has to replace Veyon Washington, who was one of the area's best jack-of-all-trades. Treasure Coast has to replace the majority of a stout defensive line and Centennial has to replace several key defenders — including linebacker Caleb Excellent, who was a key leader. The same can be said for Martin County, which had a better-than-expected front seven with linebacker Zach Ludemann and defensive lineman Sonny Wehrle. John Carroll Catholic is in the process of rebuilding its skill positions around star quarterback Jay Allen. Fort Pierce Central all-area defensive tackle Kam Schulz was one of the most underrated players on the Treasure Coast the past two seasons.
4. What playoff teams are best poised to return to the postseason?
Treasure Coast returns all-area quarterback Turk Watkins, running back Eden James, fullback Keegan Davis and key members of the offensive line from the area's top offense. Vero Beach's defense, which led the area in scoring last fall, returns a trio of players — end Keanu Koht, end Travonte O'Neal and linebacker Davon Hicks — who have Power 5 offers. Fort Pierce Westwood returns two all-state defenders (safety Kamari Wilson and end James Gardner Jr.) as well as all-area quarterback Maurice Smith Jr. and wide receiver Vandervious Jacobs.
5. What team that didn't make the playoffs can break through this season?
Sebastian River came really close to making the playoffs in Class 6A last season, but the Sharks are graduating several key starters and are in a very deep region. For now, let's say John Carroll. Allen and defensive linemen Wilky Denaud and Casen Brugnone give the Golden Rams solid building blocks.
6. The top recruits get a lot of attention, but what under-recruited rising seniors would have gotten looks from colleges this spring?
It's not easy to predict what colleges might do, but there are a handful of players who immediately spring to mind. Treasure Coast's Watkins probably won't play quarterback in college, but he's athletic enough to play a skill position or defensive back. Centennial defensive back Henry Pickens doesn't have a ton of film, but he appears poised for a breakout season. Jensen Beach safety Jeremiah Denaud, the older brother of John Carroll's Wilky Denaud, should get serious looks — especially playing alongside Da'Quan Gonzles. Vero Beach wide receiver Wendell Bethel and running back Bobby McMillian will get more chances to impress this season. John Carroll's Brugnone had strong games against some very good competition last season.