Ridaught: HS football coaches weigh in on Media Day

Oak Hall football coach RJ Fuhr and Mike Ridaught at Meda Day
Oak Hall football coach RJ Fuhr (left) talks to Mike Ridaught at Monday's Media Day.
Photo by C.J. Gish

On Monday at Hotel Indigo in Gainesville, members of the media met with high school football players and coaches at the North Central Media Day presented by Varsity Sports Network and FloridaHSFootball.com.

The event, which is the unofficial kickoff of the 2022 season, featured 33 schools from as far south as Marion County and included a total of 22 football programs in Mainstreet’s coverage area.

Of those 22 teams, a total of 10 have first-year head coaches, including six of the seven schools in the Tri-County area (Bronson, Chiefland, Dixie County, Trenton, and Williston).

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Among some of the topics were expectations for this season, schedules, new classifications, plus X’s and O’s.

“It’s just good to be back talking football,” said Suwannee (Live Oak) coach Kyler Hall, who returns for his seventh season with the Bulldogs. “I believe this is the greatest state for football. We have a lot of talent in North Florida, a lot of great teams, so this is always a day I look forward to because it means right around the corner we’re getting started.”

What seemed longer than expected (first day of fall practice) was brought to the forefront with Monday’s Media Day.

“I was talking to the boys on the way over here and I said, ‘hey guys, it’s coming,’” said Bell coach Joey Whittington, who enters his 10th season as the head coach of the Bulldogs. “We’ve got a lot going on in Bell in June. We’ve got watermelon season, we’ve got summer basketball, football, lot of stuff going on, but hey we’re going to media day and we kind of zoned in and I said, ‘literally guys, two weeks from today we’re going to have our first practice.’”

The first date of fall practice is on Monday, Aug. 1.

“It’s unbelievable that we’re here already,” said Gainesville assistant coach Christian Badics. “It’s two weeks from today (yesterday) that we start practice. It’s exciting.”

Hawthorne football at Media Day
Photo by Megan Winslow Hawthorne was one of 33 area football teams to attend the Media Day event at the Hotel Indigo in Gainesville on Monday.

Three new Alachua County coaches were on hand – Eastside’s Harold ‘Gator’ Hoskins, Santa Fe’s Joe Szymanski, and St. Francis Catholic Academy’s James Langham.

“Some of these guys have never done an interview before,” Hoskins said. “So it kind of gives them some time to build together as a team and understand what the goals are.”

Szymanski, who played at Santa Fe in the ’90s and was part of the last state championship team there in 1994, was previously the offensive coordinator at Union County (Lake Butler).

“It’s a great feeling being able to come back home and try to get our program on the right track again,” said Szymanski, who was at UCHS for almost eight years with a brief two-year stint in the middle of that time as the head coach at Interlachen (2016 and 2017).

Langham said “it’s an honor” to be the next head coach of the Wolves.

“It’s truly a pleasure for me, my first time being a head coach,” said Langham, who has been an assistant at P.K. Yonge and takes over for Scott McDaniel. “Getting this opportunity is a blessing and honestly coming into it I didn’t know what to expect but the kids have rallied well around my messaging.

“They’re a great group of kids regardless of what the outside perceptions might be about their record (0-20 the past two seasons). They’re ready to buy in and I think they’re hungry for it, so I’m excited.”

Meanwhile, Whittington is the only returning coach from the Tri-County area.

Cameron Porch, who was the head coach at Mount Dora the past two years, enters his first season in Trenton, taking over for previous coach Bill Wiles.

Porch, who begins his fourth head coaching job, has been with the Tigers for a little over five months.

“I feel like this has probably been the most fast-paced transition of my head coaching stops,” said Porch, who noted his players and community have been really receptive so far. “Everything else has been a little bit slower paced, I feel like, with a little more time to get things in gear.

“This one I feel like the expectation is, ‘hey, we need to get this going now because Trenton is a place that has won in the past’ and we expect to get it back to that.”

Interim coach Tim Jones (Bronson), James Corbin (Chiefland), Brock Canaday (Dixie County) and Robby Pruitt (Williston) join Porch as first-year head coaches in the Tri-County area (Gilchrist, Levy, and Dixie County).

Mike Ridaught interviews PK Yonge players at Media Day 2022
Photo by Seth Johnson Mainstreet’s Mike Ridaught interviews PK Yonge players at Media Day 2022.

“I’m pretty excited,” said Canaday, who left Baker County to take over for LB Cravey in Cross City. “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 both 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 enjoyed coaching.”

Other first-year coaches who attended included Lee Dorsett (Fort White) and Jamie Rodgers of Bradford (Starke).

“I love coaching football so to have the opportunity to do it again in a different place gets your juices going a bit,” said Rodgers, who has been the head coach at Baker County (Glen St. Mary) and Suwannee and will play against both of those schools this fall. 

“I’ve known about Bradford High School and the kids and how hard-nosed they are for a long, long time. I grew up 20 minutes from that area so to have the opportunity to be the head coach of Bradford was something that I couldn’t pass up.”

Rodgers echoed the sentiment about Monday’s Media Day.

“It kind of feels like football season is right around the corner now with stuff like this,” he said. “I appreciate everyone and all of the (media) outlets for having us. The kids are excited. They can hardly stand still (as you can see), so looking forward to it.”

The Kickoff Classics (preseason games) are on Friday, Aug. 19, followed by the first game of the regular season on Thursday, Aug. 25, when Columbia (Lake City) visits Buchholz (Gainesville).

Recently I released my top games each week coming up this fall in the Tri-County area. I’ll preview my top Alachua County football games this week.

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