A new era of P.K. Yonge football is coming in 2023.
Willie Jackson, a 1989 alum who competed in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field for the Blue Wave, was named his alma mater’s football coach this past May.
“Anytime someone picks you to give you an opportunity I think it’s a blessing in itself,” he said. “I’m overjoyed and more than thankful to have the opportunity to affect young kids’ lives. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
They almost had an opportunity to land University of Florida commit Myles Graham, the son of former Gator and Tampa Bay Bucs running back Earnest Graham, who is one of Jackson’s coaches this year.
In fact, Graham, who is a 4-star linebacker according to 247Sports, initially joined P.K. Yonge but decided to transfer in late July to Buchholz.
“That’s tough for the kids, but for me as a coach you can only coach what you have,” Jackson said. “And that’s all we can do. Coaching comes in tiers and levels. If you have great talent, the more talent that you can do with, you still have to be able to manage it.”
They may not have landed Myles Graham, but they do have Earnest’s younger brother.
Corinthian Graham, a junior, transferred from Moore Haven. He played running back, receiver, and cornerback for the Terriers (8-4), who lost at eventual state champion First Baptist Academy (Naples) in a Class 1S-Region 4 Final.
He believes that experience will help him at his new school.
“I’m used to high level competition and everybody going at it every day,” said Graham, who will be more of an athlete at PKY so he can be involved in every phase of the game. “And bringing that culture here will help.”
Graham is happy about what he has seen from his offensive line.
That’s good news for junior Calvin Thomas, who will play quarterback but admitted he doesn’t have much experience.
“The only time I really played quarterback was our spring game (against St. Francis Catholic),” Thomas said. “I just wanted to help my team as much as I could.”
The game in May was a good learning experience for him, even though he didn’t throw much. The Blue Wave only had a few days of practice leading up to the spring game.
“During the summer we had a lot more time to actually install plays and we’re still learning the playbook, and I feel like it’s a lot more diverse,” Thomas said.
Thomas, who will also play wide receiver, corner, and safety, considers himself more of a scrambler, but he’s hoping to eventually start throwing the ball more.
Jackson is a disciple of the Fun ‘n’ Gun under former Gator coach Steve Spurrier so you can expect to see some explosions on offense.
However, that might take some time.
“We have the ability to be wide open, but you have to have certain personnel because trying to go downtown all the time and trying to make big plays, it can work well, but then what happens when you don’t or when you’re not successful throwing it,” Jackson asked. “Then what happens is you don’t give your defense enough time to rest because you give the other offense more time to have opportunities.”
Thomas hopes he gets that chance on Oct. 20 when P.K. Yonge travels to Newberry.
“Newberry is definitely one that I’m looking forward to because they’re a pretty pass-heavy team and I like the ball in the air,” he said. “Plus, I have a lot of friends over there. I just feel like that’s going to be a fun game.”
Senior Markus Lewis, who enters his third season with the Blue Wave, said it all starts up front.
“I like our offensive line,” said Lewis, who will play fullback, offensive tackle, and defensive tackle. “We’re very physical up front. I think our line can really do some damage up front, and we’ve got a good running back (Graham).”
Defensively, Jackson said his team will be “fast and aggressive, overly aggressive.”
In addition to Newberry, a 1R playoff team last year, the schedule is challenging with games against 1R state semifinalist Union County (Lake Butler), defending 1R state champion Hawthorne, and Class 1S state runner-up Trinity Catholic (Ocala).
That can be a doubled-edged sword. Last year’s team finished 3-8 against a difficult schedule and went to the second round of the state playoffs before losing at 1S-District 3 champion Trinity Catholic in the regional final.
Limited numbers, including depth, will be the biggest challenge for P.K. Yonge, which “lost about 10 kids out of a program that has 25 kids,” according to Jackson.
“The portal is wide open, folks,” Jackson said with a laugh. “It will be interesting. It will be fun. We’ll be a lot better than a lot of people think we’ll be, put it that way.”
Jackson is confident, but his players will have to buy in and believe and then get a little lucky along the way.
“Honestly, I can’t even to begin to say what we’re going to look like until we actually strap up and put on pads and hit and practice,” Jackson said. “Because for me it has to look right, and I have to make it look right here (practice) before I can even see what it’s going to look like on Friday night.”
P.K. Yonge will open the regular season at Father Lopez (Daytona Beach) on Friday, Aug. 25.