Or­lando-area state fi­nal­ists are thriv­ing be­hind im­pact of un­der­class­men. This week­end they hit the prime-time stage with cham­pi­onships on the line.

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS - By J.C. Car­na­han

Apopka, Edge­wa­ter and Jones have com­bined to make history for Orange County high school foot­ball this fall.

And it won’t be a sur­prise to see all three of those teams pick up where they left off next year af­ter play­ing for Florida High School Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion state cham­pi­onships this week­end.

They have each ben­e­fited from ex­pe­ri­enced se­niors to make it to this point. But it’s the de­vel­op­ment of sea­soned un­der­class­men that’s helped spur the 2019 suc­cess, and likely will en­able those pro­grams to con­tinue com­pet­ing at a high level mov­ing for­ward. Apopka (12-1) faces Mi­ami Colum­bus (10-4) on Fri­day in the Class 8A state fi­nal at 7 p.m. Jones (13-1) plays Mi­ami North­west­ern (12-2) in 5A on Satur­day at noon and Edge­wa­ter (13-1) takes on Fort Laud­erdale St. Thomas Aquinas (13-0) later that night in 7A at 7 p.m.

All games will be played at Day­tona Sta­dium, with live on­line broad­casts pro­vided by Spec­trum Sports. Ad­mis­sion is $15 at the gate. Park­ing is $10.

“We’ve got a sto­ry­book sea­son go­ing on here,” fourth-year Jones coach Eli­jah Wil­liams said. “There’s not one Jones kid on cam­pus that’s used to los­ing now. The stan­dard has been set for the un­der­class­man.”

Tigers se­niors such as stand­out run­ning back Avar­ius Spar­row and de­fen­sive back Do­minick Hill, a South Carolina com­mit, will grad­u­ate as the pro­gram’s most suc­cess­ful class af­ter los­ing just four reg­u­lar sea­son games over four years. They leave be­hind a blue­print of suc­cess for oth­ers to fol­low.

“These se­niors are great kids that are per­fect ex­am­ples for the un­der­class­man,” Wil­liams said.

Wil­liams points to ju­nior of­fen­sive guards Jaquez Young and An­tuan Wells as lead­ers on that side of the ball along­side ju­nior tackle Javonte Gard­ner, who stands at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds.

The Tigers, who lost three un­der­class­men to in­jury on de­fense this sea­son, are al­low­ing just 12 points per game as a team.

Ju­nior de­fen­sive back Del­montre Pryor has tal­lied 59 to­tal tack­les, three in­ter­cep­tions and a forced fum­ble this sea­son. Fresh­man line­backer Ma­lik Bryant has 63 to­tal tack­les and four sacks while ju­nior line­backer Darrian Hawkins ranks fourth with 70 to­tal tack­les.

“There is no age re­quire­ment for lead­er­ship. I say it all the time.” Edge­wa­ter coach Cameron Duke said. “When you’re build­ing a pro­gram, you un­der­stand that it’s not just for that year. We’ve seen great lead­er­ship in all of our classes on the var­sity team and we feel like the fu­ture is bright.”

Ju­nior re­ceivers Chris­tian Leary and Tommi Hill have been part of big plays through­out the year for the Ea­gles on of­fense. The unit should ben­e­fit from an ad­di­tional year of ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween quar­ter­back Canaan Mob­ley and cen­ter Devin Hevener, both of whom are ju­niors.

Sopho­more re­ceiver Jeremiah Con­nelly, the younger brother of se­nior stand­out run­ning back Isa­iah Con­nelly, is in line for an in­creased role next sea­son. Isa­iah, who has rushed for 2,161 yards and 24 touch­downs, is part of a se­nior class that went 0-10 as fresh­men in 2016 be­fore Duke and his staff ar­rived.

Hill, who dou­bles as a re­ceiver and cor­ner­back, has reached the end zone nine times. He ranks sec­ond on the team with four in­ter­cep­tions. Leary has ac­counted for 14 touch­downs — scor­ing eight times on re­cep­tions and six times on rushes.

Like Leary on of­fense, ju­nior line­backer Deshawn Trout­man of­fers Edge­wa­ter ver­sa­til­ity on the other side of the ball.

Trout­man is tied with se­nior Shary Jefferson for the team lead in to­tal tack­les (89), in­clud­ing 11 for a loss. Ju­nior safety Kevin But­ler is third on the team with 59 tack­les.

Strength on de­fense is what helped Apopka to overcome in­juries in the of­fen­sive back­field dur­ing what’s been an im­pres­sive run un­der first-year coach Jeff Rol­son.

Versatile quar­ter­back Jaquan Low­man and block­ing back Cur­tis Spivey are two of four ju­nior starters on of­fense, along with line­men Josh Camp­bell and An­quawn Pringle. They’ve each helped keep the clock rolling in games out of a run-heavy sin­glew­ing pack­age.

With se­nior nose guard and Ge­or­gia com­mit Jalen Carter de­mand­ing so much at­ten­tion, thanks to a 6-foot-4, 295-pound frame, Apopka’s un­der­class­men have been put in po­si­tion to build a vet­eran-like pres­ence.

Sopho­more lineback­ers Travion Barnes and Josiah Robin­son come from foot­ball fam­i­lies. Both are de­scribed as phys­i­cally strong and fast ath­letes who “play like up­per­class­man,” ac­cord­ing to Rol­son.

They join cor­ner­back Nikai Martinez, who re­turned an in­ter­cep­tion for a touch­down in the state semi­fi­nals, as play­ers that started last year as fresh­men.

Robin­son forced a game-chang­ing fum­ble against Semi­nole in the re­gion fi­nals and Barnes is a unan­i­mous All-Metro West Con­fer­ence se­lec­tion. Fresh­man de­fen­sive end Kaven Call, who had two sacks in the state semi­fi­nals, joins ju­nior safety Jaquan Har­ris as hav­ing emerged as key starters for a unit that’s held op­pos­ing teams to 15 points or less 11 times.

“[Har­ris] has come out of nowhere to be­come as solid as any­one we have in the sec­ondary,” Rol­son said.

It’s a fa­mil­iar theme for the area’s 2019 state fi­nal­ists. One that will likely con­tinue long af­ter the lights go out in Day­tona on Satur­day night.


Sopho­mores Jeremiah Con­nelly (14) of Edge­wa­ter and Jones’ James Weather­spoon (27) are among many un­der­class­men mak­ing a big im­pact for state fi­nal­ists this sea­son.


Apopka will ap­pear in its fifth foot­ball state cham­pi­onship game on Fri­day at Day­tona Sta­dium when it takes on Mi­ami Colum­bus.

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