TCPalm PrepZone Two-a-Days: Westwood's secondary impressive even without Kamari Wilson
TCPalm PrepZone is going to two high school practices each day for first eight days of football practice. Today is Fort Pierce Central and Fort Pierce Westwood.
Kamari Wilson is gone, but that hasn't stopped Fort Pierce Westwood coach Jeff George Jr. from being excited about his secondary.
Wilson, the top-ranked safety in the nation in the Class of 2022, transferred to IMG Academy during the summer.
But the Panthers return two of the senior starters from last year's district championship team — safety Tommy Mitchell and cornerback Miguel Wilson — as well as adding first-team all-area cornerback James Monds III and super-athletic safety Rod Huntley.
Westwood also has sophomore safety Tahyon Mills, who just happens to be Wilson's cousin and will wear his old jersey number (24). Mitchell, Huntley and Mills will all be on the field together in the Panthers' three-safety scheme.
"It's crazy to say, but we're a better secondary this year," George said. "The secondary doesn't have (No.) 24 (Wilson) anymore, but as a collective unit, we're much better."
Monds, who transferred from Port St. Lucie, has to adjust from the Jaguars' zone scheme to playing almost exclusively man-to-man at Westwood. He emerged as one of the area's premier defensive backs last fall and is one of the top junior recruits on the Treasure Coast.
Huntley played running back at St. Lucie West Centennial the past two seasons but quickly caught George's eye as a defensive back. He'll play both positions for the Panthers.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Mills played junior varsity last season, but he matured so much physically that George joked he was unsure of who Mills was after returning from the shutdown.
"He came back a completely different player," George said. "He might be the best player in the secondary, and that's saying a lot."
Fort Pierce Central is ready to hand the reigns of the offense to junior quarterback Nick Halliday. The former junior varsity quarterback has impressed coaches with his toughness and athleticism. Central coach Jeff Cameron said Halliday has been working closely with new assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Mike Watkins to improve his ability to quickly work through his progressions.
Maurice Smith Jr. is the unquestioned leader of Westwood's offense. The junior quarterback was beaten out for the starting job last fall, but he earned the job midway through the season and passed for more than 1,700 yards in six games. George said new offensive coordinator Lee Jackson will help Smith mature even more.
Central junior wide receiver Aaron McCloud has impressed coaches with his willingness to do whatever is best for the team and his ability to make hard catches look easy. "That overthrown ball is a ball that's caught now," Cameron said. "He's going to snatch it out of the sky. He's going to make our quarterback look good."
Westwood has a tall, athletic, inexperienced senior lining up at defensive end this fall. Sound familiar? Last year, it was Gilber Edmond, who went from relative unknown to signing with South Carolina in the span of seven months. This year, it's Rayvon Stanberry. The 6-2, 215-pounder has coaches raving about his potential. Stanberry recorded a sack in last year's spring game, but opted not to play in the fall so he could focus on basketball.
Central junior Gabriel Jacas was a clear leader for the Cobras during the offseason and has continued to be one of the key voices on the roster. Jacas will play offensive line and defensive end this season. Cameron expects the 6-3, 230-pound Jacas to impress colleges as a defensive end.
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