As the Jacksonville Jaguars’ struggle to field a competitive NFL team continues, local area football fans have a number of exciting high school alternatives available to scratch their football itch.
First Coast high school football is typically very competitive. In 2016, for example, four local schools appeared in state championship games—Bolles, Trinity Christian (TC), University Christian and Ponte Vedra—and this season looks to be no exception.
This year’s inexplicable district re-alignment places three of those teams—Bolles, Trinity Christian and Ponte Vedra—in the new 5A District 4, serving only to intensify the regular season battle for a postseason playoff spot.
Ponte Vedra’s Sharks had a dream season in 2016 finishing as state runner-up to American Heritage in one of the most exciting football games imaginable. Unfortunately for the Sharks, all but three starters—wide receiver Jarrett Stepp, lineman Rob Wortelboer and tight end Kit Connelly—on Nick Tronti’s juggernaut offense return this season. Stepp can be a difference maker if the Sharks can get him the ball.
The new District 4 alignment only adds to Sharks coach Matt Toblin’s problems. He will not only have to contend with the two state powerhouses but with Bishop Kenny, Westside and Parker as well. Ponte Vedra will likely need to upset both Bolles and TC to earn a playoff spot.
The local arch-rivalry between the Sharks and the Nease Panthers continues although the teams are not in the same classification. Last Friday, the two squared off at the Shark Tank in what has been dubbed The Battle of the Bridge. The Sharks ultimately defeated the Panthers 24-13.
A much longer and equally intense local rivalry—that between the St. Augustine Yellow Jackets and Nease—pits two 6A District 4 teams at the Panthers’ field in October, a matchup that will probably decide that district title.
Nearby neighbors Bartram Trail, Creekside and Oakleaf all compete in 7A District 3 along with Fleming Island and Buchholz. Don’t ever count Bears coach Darrell Sutherland out when it comes to winning big football games.
Getting back to the Jaguars. Too many notoriously bad or at best questionable draft selections over the years have undermined improvement of the team, and this year’s version does not look to be very competitive either.
Wouldn’t it at least be exciting to have a former local high school star on the team? The Jaguars had a chance but passed on former Panther, Florida and Denver quarterback Tim Tebow when he would certainly have had a major impact on attendance and might even have helped the team.
This season they failed to land another Nease star, center Lucas Crowley, a three-year-starter for the ACC North Carolina Tar Heels. Crowley is now on the roster of the Washington Redskins but might have been able to help the O-line of the Jags had they pursued him. At least, like Tebow, he would have attracted plenty of hometown fans.
Sit back now and enjoy the season. There are certain to be plenty of surprises.