Last year the P.K. Yonge football team advanced to the state playoffs in Kevin Doelling’s first year.
However, in 2022, the Blue Wave are going to be a different team.
P.K. Yonge only returns one starter on offense and three starters on defense.
“We’re going to be young this year,” Doelling said. “They’re doing a really good job of learning. They’re really smart, really heady kids. That’s the good thing about P.K., we always get some really intelligent human beings out there and it makes coaching a lot easier.”
The Blue Wave graduated 16 seniors from last year’s 8-4 team which lost at Trinity Catholic (Ocala) in the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
“Last year we had a breakout season, which many people didn’t expect, but this year we have a younger team which means we’ll have to have more grit and heart,” said senior Ernest Davis, who will play linebacker and fullback.
Davis (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) had 40 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and two fumble recoveries as a junior.
The biggest challenge this fall will be replacing AJ Small at quarterback, who graduated after throwing for 1,620 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for 701 yards and 13 scores.
“Aaron was phenomenal,” Doelling said. “I’ve been coaching him since he was in sixth grade and to watch him grow and develop, and become what he became, is amazing. But the guy that we’ve got following him who we expect to be starting is Adrian Curtis. He’s going to be going through trials and tribulations but at the end of the day I think he’s going to be a phenomenal football player.”
Doelling said Curtis, who went in for AJ when he got injured in the playoff game against Trinity Catholic, is a little undersized but “he’s very mechanically talented and continuing to learn the game.”
P.K. Yonge lost some players to the transfer portal, including Division-I wide receiver Jaren Hamilton to Buchholz. However, Thomas Young, Trevor Brown, and Haden Moore will be key contributors on offense.
“We’ve got some talent at P.K.,” Doelling said. “A lot of guys who were only able to play one side of the ball last year because of our depth will be playing a little more both ways this year.”
The Blue Wave will have a familiar face directing the defense as former head coach Marcus McDonald will return as the defensive coordinator, so they will be changing things up some.
“He and Coach Kevin have good chemistry so I feel like it will be a good combination,” said senior Rashaun Walden.
Walden (5-10, 210) will play linebacker and running back this fall. Last year he carried the ball 31 times for 116 yards with three touchdowns and also had 37 tackles, including three tackles for a loss on defense.
With a young team, Doelling said the key will be to “manage expectations.”
“We’re going to see some tough teams early in the year,” Doelling said. “Just like last year, we started the year off 1-3 and we made an eight-game run. The boys just need to understand the importance of learning, taking what you see on the film, and continuing to get better because these guys are going to have a long time at P.K. As long as they continue to get better, we’re going to be in a really good spot.”
Senior Devin Pedro is the leading returning rusher. As a junior, he carried the ball 23 times for 243 yards with four scores. He also had 37 tackles on defense with one tackle for a loss, three interceptions, and one defensive touchdown.
Pedro (5-11, 170), who will also play safety, said he is looking forward to taking on a senior role.
“I’m a big fan of this younger class,” he said. “They’re all smart kids, they’re good kids, and they all have bright futures ahead of them. I’m looking forward to coaching them up and getting them ready for their seasons.”
The physical aspect is going to take some time, but mental growth is Doelling’s priority right now.
“It’s been an interesting summer for us,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of sophomores who are going to be expected to step up and be a major contributing factor for this year and we’re excited to have them.”
P.K. Yonge, which will compete in the new Class 1S-District 3, will open the season at home against Eastside on Friday, Aug. 26, at 7 p.m.