Ridaught: Spring football is in the air

The Buchholz football team will travel to Bradford (Starke) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 25, for their spring game.
Courtesy of R.A.W.E. Recruits

Last year two Alachua County football teams made lengthy runs in the postseason.

Hawthorne advanced to its third straight state championship game appearance. The third time was the charm as the Hornets (12-0) ran the table to win their first title in program history.

Buchholz (10-3) advanced to its second straight state semifinal appearance, before falling on the road at Venice to finish the season. 

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Both teams will look much different this year, but the expectations are the same as both programs have set the bar high for all Alachua County teams.

Buchholz began spring practice earlier this month with a new head coach as Chuck Bell takes over for retired coach Mark Whittemore.

Whittemore stepped down after 11 seasons and his defensive coordinator, Bell, enters his first season as the new head coach of the Bobcats.

Buchholz quarterback Creed Whittemore and the Bobcats will host Pace at Newberry High School on Friday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Buchholz quarterback Creed Whittemore was named the Florida Dairy Farmer’s Mr. Football following his 2022 performance.

They must replace a lot of talent, including the first Mr. Football winner in Alachua County history. Mark’s son, Creed, easily won the award by finishing with 15 of the 25 first-place votes. 

The Class 4S Player of the Year threw for 2,693 yards with 35 TDs and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 1,285 yards (8.29 yards per carry) and 17 TDs.

Whittemore (Mississippi State), wide receivers Jacarree Kelly (Delaware University) and Jaren Hamilton (Alabama), and defensive end Gavin Hill (Florida) all signed to play for Division-I schools.

Buchholz will play its spring game at Bradford (Starke) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 25.

Hawthorne has several D-I players who have moved on, including the Class 1R Player of the Year and Vanderbilt University signee Jailen Ruth, who finished his senior season with 94 tackles, including 64 solo.

“Honestly, it is the next man up mentality,” said Hornets’ defensive coordinator Dustin Adkins. “We lost some studs, such as Ruth, however, we have had a lot of younger kids in the program that have witnessed his success firsthand and understand the work and attention to detail it takes to be successful. 

“While we lost seven starters from defense, we have a lot of individuals that still got valuable game repetitions and we will be leaning on them on defense this year. While losing the pieces we lost is a big blow, I am excited to see the next group of student-athletes that are going to make their name on the defensive side of the ball.”

On offense, Hawthorne returns three starters, including quarterback C.J. Ingram, the son of head coach Cornelius Ingram.

“We have some dynamic pieces on offense, led by Ingram, and they are making explosive plays each day in practice,” Adkins said. “The best thing about our offense being so explosive and returning key pieces is the fact that it makes the defense ‘grow up’ fast. Having to go against them on a daily basis has been a great strength for our team and will continue to strengthen our team.”

The Hornets tentatively have an intrasquad scrimmage scheduled at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17.

Eastside enters year two under head coach Harold ‘Gator’ Hoskins, who was hired last summer to help turn around the Rams’ football program.

Hawthorne's Jailen Ruth with a first half tackle against Northview on Saturday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Hawthorne’s Jailen Ruth was selected the 2022 Class 1R Player of the Year.

That he did, in his first season. The Rams, who will have to replace long-time quarterback Holden Johnson, won their first district title in 10 years in 2022.

Eastside will also host an intrasquad game at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 25, as the Orange plays the Green at Eastside High School.

There is only one way to go for the Gainesville football program.

Dock Pollard, who led the Hurricanes to a district title in 2021, resigned at the end of last year as the Hurricanes finished 0-10. 

There is a newfound excitement in the air at GHS after alum and former NFL player Ian Scott was hired as the Hurricanes’ next head coach.

During his prep career, Scott was a first-team Class 5A All State selection as both a junior and a senior, and he earned All-America recognition. He also was a part of back-to-back basketball state championships.

Scott will get his first taste of game experience as a head coach at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 19, when GHS hosts Newberry at Citizens Field as its spring game.

Newberry football coach Ed Johnson is optimistic about the 2023 season.

“We’re excited,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a chance to be really good so we’re just going to keep working.”

The Panthers finished 6-4 last year and advanced to the 1R playoffs.

“We only graduated four seniors,” Johnson said. “Everybody is back and getting healthy and our quarterback is a year older and will be a year wiser, Kaleb (Woods) is a year older, a year bigger, and our offensive line got a lot of experience last year so hopefully they’ll be much improved.”

Newberry's Kaleb Woods with a run against P.K. Yonge on Friday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Newberry’s Kaleb Woods with a run against P.K. Yonge last fall.

As freshmen, Keil McGriff threw for 2,055 yards with 18 touchdowns, while Woods rushed for 868 yards and nine touchdowns.

Santa Fe (Alachua) and St. Francis Catholic should be improved as their coaches enter their second year at the helm.

“We have good numbers (61 players) and they are working hard and doing everything that is asked of them,” said Santa Fe coach Joseph Szymanski. “Our biggest area of concern is how young we are. We think that we will be very competitive leading into year two.”

The Raiders will play a Jamboree with Keystone Heights and Ridgeview (Orange Park) on Monday, May 22, at 7 p.m. on their home field.

St. Francis Catholic will host P.K. Yonge on Thursday, May 18, at 7 p.m.

“My honest thoughts are that we are about to shock some people around town with the jump we are about to make this season,” said Wolves’ coach James Langham. “We have plenty of returning starters and these guys have been putting in the work all off-season to make something special happen here next year. The advantage of me being here now for a little bit over a year is that there is a complete trust and understanding in place and a level of work ethic and passion that just was not here when I took over the program.”

The Blue Wave will likely keep things simple as they just hired a new coach.

Alum and former Gator Willie Jackson was hired last week as the next head football coach at P.K. Yonge.

Oak Hall is coming off an undefeated regular season and looks to extend its playoff streak (2015-2022) to nine straight seasons in 2023.

Oak Hall quarterback Dakota Brower scrambles
Photo by C.J. Gish Oak Hall quarterback Dakota Brower scrambles against P.K. Yonge last fall.

“Very happy with the first two weeks,” said Eagles’ head coach R.J. Fuhr. “We have four starters still playing baseball and our QB, Dakota Brower, has qualified for three events at the FHSAA state track meet so that’s been tricky, but some young guys are getting meaningful snaps in the spring. One of those is rising eighth grader Gavin Peterson, who is taking a majority of snaps at QB.”

The Eagles will host Impact Christian (Jacksonville) in the spring game at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 25.

“We are excited for our kids to hit some kids in a different color jersey and to get some good film for teaching points,” Fuhr said. “Impact Christian will be a good test for us. Coach (Robert) Ramsay will have them ready for us. Excited that we get to play at home since we only had three home games last year.”

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