Dixie County armed with new coach, young roster

Dixie County QB Bret Nettles
Dixie County quarterback Bret Nettles (1) passed for 590 yards and rushed for 171 last year for the Bears. (Photo by C.J. Gish)
Dixie County football head coach Brock Canaday
Photo by Megan Winslow Brock Canaday

The Dixie County (Cross City) football team will have a new head coach in 2022 as Brock Canaday takes over for L.B. Cravey.

“I’m pretty excited,” said Canaday, who previously had two stints as defensive coordinator at Baker County (Glen St. Mary). “This is my first head coaching job. I’ve had some opportunities in the past and I just felt like this was a great fit as far as career-wise and personally. It’s a great place to live and I get to coach a brand of kid that I’ve always been accustomed to and enjoy coaching.”

His new team has had to make a quick transition.

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“I was a late hire, late May,” said Canaday, who is from Baker County. “We’re trying to combine weight lifting and conditioning while teaching them the schematics of our new system. The great thing is the kids are hungry and are willing to do what it takes to learn and physically prepare themselves for the season, so them doing their part is going to help the transition take place a lot faster.”

Dixie County has always been considered a blue collar, hard-nosed, physical football team and that’s something that excites Canaday.

“Immediately when I heard the job was open I wanted it because I like kids that believe in a physical brand of football,” he said. “They’re it. For this part of the state, I would venture to say they are part of the definition when it comes to grind it out, tough kids, so I’m excited to be around them and see what this season holds for us.”

The Bears, who struggled last year and finished 3-6, graduated 13 seniors from 2021. It will be a young team with only two seniors and five juniors.

Only three starters return on offense. However, Bret Nettles is back at quarterback.

Dixie County football Javarion Henry
Photo by Megan Winslow Javarion Henry

“He’s a hard-working kid and he’s learning,” Canaday said. “His mind is like a sponge and he’s always asking questions. Just a little over a month into installing a new offense he’s already taken charge of it making the appropriate checks and calls so I’m very pleased with where he’s at and I’m excited to see exactly how he performs.”

Last season, the rising senior threw for 590 passing yards with three passing touchdowns. He also carried the ball 39 times for 171 rushing yards.

Nettles, who will also play some wide receiver and defensive back, has two strengths which should help the offense.

“I’ve got a good deep ball and I can run good routes,” he said.

Dixie County will run a multiple offense with some option and will build around its skill set.

“We have to execute everything, every play, every down,” Nettles said.

The Bears will try to control the line of scrimmage by using their physicality on both sides of the ball.

“Our offense starts up front,” Canaday said. “If we can control the game in the box, that will allow us to do whatever we want to do, in my opinion. Mark Beach (former Lafayette head coach) is my offensive coordinator and he has a bright offensive mind. He gets a lot out of the kids so I have no doubt that that side of the ball is going to be successful.”

However, the Bears will have to replace Kolton Hunt, an explosive player who not only ran for an average of 6.1 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns but also caught 14 passes for 223 yards and a score.

Plus, they lose Brenden Hall to graduation, so athletes Jaheim Taylor and Jayson Wiles will have to step up. Hall caught a team-leading 23 catches for 527 yards and five touchdowns.

Hunt and Hall were Mainstreet Daily News All Area honorable mentions last year.

Dixie County football Gabe Mitchell
Photo by Megan Winslow Gabe Mitchell

Meanwhile, senior Javarion Henry (6 foot, 290 pounds) and junior Gabe Mitchell (6-3, 220) will help anchor both lines of scrimmage.

Dixie County only returns three starters on defense so Canaday, who will coach the defense, said the key will be “how fast as a secondary we come together.”

“Defense will have a lot of young faces,” he explained. “I’m big on communication in my defense so they’re still kind of adjusting to having to talk, talk every down. But they’re getting better. Our plan is to stop the run, force the pass, and just play sound, physical football and see what happens going into the fourth quarter.”

A lot of formations will be different on defense this season.

“I like that,” Henry said. “I like the fronts we run. It’s a lot different than what we used to run.”

Last year, Mitchell had 11 tackles and three sacks in just four games on defense, while safety Jake NeSmith (6-1, 185), a junior, had 58 tackles, one sack, and 13 tackles for a loss as a sophomore.

“We’ve just got to be very disciplined,” said NeSmith, who will also play running back.

Six out of the 10 opponents this season were playoff teams last year.

Canaday said the first game against Lafayette (Mayo) on Friday, Aug. 26, will be an important one.

Dixie County football Jake NeSmith
Photo by Megan Winslow Jake NeSmith

“I think that sets the tone for our season,” he said. “They’re coached well and they have talented, tough players, so if we can find a way to get that one I think that sets the tone for a good, successful season.”

In order to have a successful season, Canaday said there are three key factors.

“Second and third down penalties killed them last year,” Canaday said. “Protect the football, and don’t give up the big one on defense. I believe we’ll be in a lot more games than probably what people expect.”

Dixie County will compete in Class 1R-Region 4 this season with Bronson, Chiefland, Glades Day (Belle Glade), Hawthorne, Pahokee, Trenton, Wildwood, and Williston.

Despite being a young team with a first-year head coach and a tough schedule, the Bears could turn things around this year.

“We just need to be coachable and do whatever they say even if you don’t think it’s right,” Mitchell said. “They know more than we do.”

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