Fresh cut grass, the sound of the band, the cheerleaders, and of course the gridiron.
The high school football regular season is still a week away, but football is back.
Tonight, teams get a chance to hit someone other than their own teammates.
It’s a dress rehearsal for area football teams.
Week zero, as it has become known, is for preseason games. It’s a chance to get reps in one last time before week one of the regular season kicks off.
It’s also an opportunity for new head coaches to get a varsity game under their belt before games count in the win/loss column.
Some coaches will play their varsity for a half, three quarters, or even an entire game, while some will give their JV a chance to play in live game situations too.
“Our JV program as a whole will not be playing in the game on Friday, however, there will be some young kids who are on our team now who will be playing some games on JV this year,” said first-year Chiefland coach James Corbin. “Chiefland has a very large senior class of 17, and we will be playing some 10th graders on JV in order to maximize their reps between now and next fall because they will likely turn to starters next year due to the depletion of the roster.”
The Class 1R-Region 4 Indians will host Class 2S-Region 2 Eastside tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“We anticipate Eastside being a very athletic football team with a good, young, coaching staff,” Corbin said. “Unfortunately, they did not play a spring game this past year, so we have no film on them to game plan around. Although this does hurt game planning, it does help us as a program as it allows us as a staff to focus on our fundamentals and base plays, especially considering this is a preseason game.”
The Indians will be without three players who were involved in a spring game altercation against Bronson. They were not punished by the FHSAA after the investigation was conducted.
However, Chiefland has decided to handle things internally by suspending the three involved.
“We as a program hold our student-athletes to a high standard and we expect all players to act accordingly,” Corbin explained. “Because of this, these three will not dress for this game, and we will use this as an opportunity to rep our backups and our younger players on the team.”
Corbin added that while this does limit them in terms of explosive players, it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up.
“I consider this a great opportunity for our kids to further understand both the offense and the defense and to gain invaluable experience that will undoubtedly help us later on in the year,” he said.
Eastside alum Harold ‘Gator’ Hoskins enters his first season as head coach and looks to turn the Rams’ program around.
The three biggest city schools in Gainesville (Eastside, Gainesville High and Buchholz) are all on the road.
Buchholz, which is ready to make a long postseason run, is at North Marion (Citra), while Gainesville, which looks to build on last year’s success, is at Trinity Catholic (Ocala) at 7 p.m.
Newberry, which looks to rebound in 2022, will host Wildwood at 7 p.m.
Panthers’ coach Ed Johnson, who added a pair of former Gators to his staff in the offseason, said the varsity will play the entire game.
"As a program, we are looking forward to getting out of the gate and facing a quality opponent in Wildwood,” Johnson said. “We want to see our kids play fast, play hard and play smart on Friday night, taking whatever we can learn to help us in the regular season.”
Bell, which looks for continued growth in 2022, will host Lafayette (Mayo) at 7:30 p.m. The Bulldogs will let their JV play the fourth quarter.
“Excited to see what this team can do,” said Joey Whittington, who enters his 10th season as the Bulldogs’ head coach. “It will be good to measure against a quality opponent like Lafayette to see our strengths and weaknesses before the regular season starts.”
Another first-year coach in the Tri-County area, Robby Pruitt of Williston, will also play his varsity for three quarters while the JV will play the final quarter.
The Red Devils travel to Taylor County (Perry) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
“We only got 13 offensive plays and 15 defensive plays in the spring game, so we are really wanting to play some kids and get some game footage of our players, especially against a caliber team like Taylor County,” Pruitt said.
Union County (Lake Butler), which has high expectations after last year’s unbeaten regular season and postseason run, will travel to Baker County (Glen St. Mary) for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
The Tigers will play the varsity for a half and the JV for a half.
“Our goal is to get an opportunity to grease the joints for our guys and get ready for the regular season,” said Tigers’ coach Andrew Thomas, who won his 100th career game last year. “It’s a great opponent that will give us an earlier thermometer test.”
Thomas said it also provides a chance to learn more about his team following fall drills.
“Just want to see weaknesses and be able to build on those going into the regular season, and Baker County will definitely be a team that tests us,” he said. “We are looking forward to playing those guys and being in that environment. They are well coached and we have a lot of respect for that program.”
Hawthorne, which is preparing for another title game run, will travel to Jacksonville at 6:30 p.m. to face Ed White, a Class 5A school last year.
“We have an opportunity to go against a well-known and bigger classification school in Ed White,” said Hawthorne defensive coordinator Dustin Adkins. “They are big, physical, and fast on both sides of the ball. They are well balanced on offense and feature a playmaker at both QB and WR.”
The game may not count, per se, but Adkins said the coaching staff is expecting its team to treat it as such.
“Honestly, for the preseason classic, I want to see our players lining up correctly, flying around, and playing the physical football that has been associated with our program the last few years,” he said. “In addition, everyone will get a chance to play and it will give us a good idea on which younger players are ready to resume a larger role for us, along with figuring out depth and rotations moving forward for the season.”
But the ultimate goal is to avoid injuries.
“I want to leave Friday's game healthy, first and foremost, as we begin the regular season the following week.” Adkins said.
The Oak Hall School football program has had seven winning seasons in a row. The young Eagles are hoping to keep that streak alive and go as deep as possible in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference postseason.
Tonight at 7 p.m. they travel crosstown to face P.K. Yonge.
Eagles’ coach R.J. Fuhr said the varsity will play the first half, while the younger guys will play in the third quarter.
“PK will definitely give our young O-line a challenge,” Fuhr said. “Tonight will provide some good game experience for all our young guys. We only have four seniors on the entire roster.”
Fuhr said the fourth quarter will be red zone and 2-minute situations for varsity.
“The guys are excited to hit someone in a different color jersey,” he added. “I’m excited for our kids to get to play a great program like PK and get some good film and pray both teams stay healthy.”
P.K. Yonge will be varsity the first two quarters, JV will play the third quarter, plus the red zone and 2-minute situational drills.
“I'm excited to see what kind of energy this young group will bring,” said P.K. Yonge coach Kevin Doelling, who will have a young team this season. “They've done a great job of learning not only our offense and defense but the expectation that comes with wearing the PKY letters on their chest.”
There is a reason the preseason games are called ‘dress rehearsals’ but there is one thing that should be consistent among all teams.
“Executing early on in the year is difficult for anyone and I don't expect us to be any different there, but what they can control 100% of the time is their effort and enthusiasm to be playing football again,” Doelling said.
Football is back.
Friday, Aug. 19 (PRESEASON)
Bradford (Starke) at Providence (Jacksonville), 6 p.m.
Hawthorne at Ed White (Jacksonville), 6:30 p.m.
Buchholz at Trinity Catholic (Ocala), 7 p.m.
Santa Fe (Alachua) at West Nassau (Callahan), 7 p.m.
Union County (Lake Butler) at Baker County (Glen St. Mary), 7 p.m.
Oak Hall School at P.K. Yonge, 7 p.m.
Keystone Heights at Ridgeview (Orange Park), 7 p.m.
Wildwood at Newberry, 7 p.m.
Saint Francis Catholic at Franklin County (Eastpoint), 7 p.m.
Fort White at Branford, 7:30 p.m.
Williston at Taylor County (Perry), 7:30 p.m.
Lafayette (Mayo) at Bell, 7:30 p.m.
Columbia (Lake City) at Suwannee (Live Oak), 7:30 p.m.
Gainesville at North Marion (Citra), 7:30 p.m.
Eastside at Chiefland, 7:30 p.m.
Trenton at St. Joseph (St. Augustine) for 3-team jamboree with Cedar Creek Christian (Jacksonville)