Preseason football games have been called dress rehearsals, but there may be a more appropriate theatric terms for the three contests involving Putnam County schools tonight.
There are jobs to be won in Crescent City and Interlachen, understudies who have to prove themselves for injury-riddled Palatka. The Panthers have a 7 p.m. game with Gainesville Eastside at Citizens Field. Both the Raiders and Rams are at home – the Raiders at 7 against Daytona Beach Father Lopez, the Rams at 7:30 against Bronson.
Games shape up as follows:
n Palatka-Eastside. No less then 10 would-be starters have missed time since preseason practice began Aug. 1 and at least seven won’t play tonight. It’s not unusual to sit nicked-up starters for a game that doesn’t count, but PHS coach Bobby Humphries said none of the seven would play even if tonight was a regular-season game.
“They’re all different (injuries) – nothing in particular that stands out,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve had to change how we practice. We’re having everybody work two positions, offense and defense.”
The injury situation is particularly acute on the offensive line, specifically at guard, where starters Josh Reynolds and Benny Wilkinson are out along with top backup Zeth Sweat. A fourth guard quit and defensive lineman DeMare Purifoy is moving over to help take up the slack.
The Panthers will also be without two veterans in the secondary, Robert Passmore and DeMareyae Givens (who also punts), as well as tight end-defensive end Garrett Lee and outside linebacker Travis Hill.
On the plus side for Palatka, starting tailback Kedrick Davis is back after missing spring practice after breaking an ankle wrestling. Quarterback James Campbell finished strong as a junior during a 4-6 season in 2015 and has gained weight and strength.
“We’ve got some young kids – some guys that might have been backups. It will be interesting to see how they perform,” Humphries said.
Eastside made the playoffs as a district runnerup last season despite a 1-9 record overall.
n Crescent City-Father Lopez. The Raiders are young, according to coach Al Smith, but big, fast and deep for a class 1A program.
What he hopes to learn tonight is who will complement freshman quarterback Naykee Scott in a three-back offense.
“I’m two-deep at every (backfield) spot. They all bring something different to the table,” Smith said. “We’re trying to see who’s going to be the guy as far as the backs are concerned.”
Fullback Bernard Wright was by far the most effective Crescent City back in a largely dismal spring game, a 42-0 loss to class 6A Deltona. He has competition from Tyreke Walker. Zayne Whipple and Jeremiah Roofe are in the hunt at A-back (left wingback), Jerome Strong and Tyler Unruh at Z-back (right wingback).
Though a freshman, Scott brings some experience to his position, taking over at quarterback late last season.
Consistency will be critical as the Raiders face Lopez, which was 4-6 last year.
“I don’t want them to have one good play and two bad plays,” he said. “We are moving in the right direction. We can’t afford to go backwards. We can’t even afford to stay the same. We have to go forward every day.”
n Interlachen-Bronson. Less than a month on the job after the surprise resignation of Lantz Lowery, first-year head coach Joe Szymanski has been encouraged by practice thus far, working to install a multiple offense in the place of the flexbone the Rams ran last year.
He’s not force feeding them, though.
“We’re giving it to them a little bit at a time,” Szymanski said. “We’ve got enough in for (tonight). We hope to have it all in by the second or third week.
“It’s quite a bit different. We’re running out of a lot of different formations. With this offense, there’ll be a lot of people touching the ball.”
The one who will touch is from the start is Brennan Wykoff, a two-time all-county linebacker who did some running last year and moved to quarterback last spring.
“We’ve got some athletes, but we don’t have a lot of depth, so we need to stay healthy,” Szymanski said. “I just want to see how they compete, how they handle their assignments, how they handle the offense.”
Interlachen is coming off its third straight 1-9 season but won’t get much sympathy from Bronson, which went 0-10 in 2015. The season seemed doomed even before it began – the Eagles’ preseason game with IHS was cancelled when officials failed to show.
Former University of Florida player Curtis Stacy is Bronson’s new head coach.