Column: Spring football on way

(First of two columns on spring football in Putnam County, which begins April 24. Today: Crescent City and Interlachen.)

Clarence Williams finds himself performing a juggling act from the very beginning as head coach of a Crescent City program for which he once starred and long served as an assistant coach.

He’s also the head baseball coach and at least a week and a half remains in baseball season – ideally longer, allowing for a state playoff shot – when football practice starts.

But the former Florida State and Buffalo Bills fullback hailed as “Pooh Bear” knew that going in and planned accordingly.

“My football team will go to study hall right after school. I’ll work with the baseball team from 2-3 and after that they’ll work with the assistants and I’ll go to football,” Williams said.

There is some learning to do this spring, though Williams and his coordinators, Sean Delaney (offense) and Wesley Thompson (defense) are hardly strangers to the players.

“I think we’ll be ahead of the curve defensively, but we have a lot to learn on the offensive side,” Williams said. “Offensively, it’ll be a totally new game plan. No huddle – not necessarily breakaway speed, but get a few more plays in.”

Coming off a 5-5 season (including a forfeit victory), the Raiders do not want for players to make the offense click. Rising sophomore quarterback Naykee Scott enters his second full season as the starter, having taken over as an eighth-grader late in 2015. Zayne Whipple and Bernard Wright are proven running backs and Bryce Phoulom and Jerome Strong lead a veteran line.

“We’ll spread the ball around a lot. I really want to be two-deep at our skill positions, give guys a lot of reps and not let the defense plan around one player,” Williams said. “Zayne Whipple can have a great year. Bernard Wright can have a great year. But I’m looking for some of our young guys to step up. We’ve got a lot of athletic kids and kids with decent speed. It’ll all be predicated on picking up the scheme.”

Williams particularly liked the potential of free safety-wide receiver Jeremiah Roofe and hope he realizes the kind of player he could be.

The Raiders conclude spring practice May 19 in a three-team jamboree with Keystone Heights and host Interlachen. The teams are part of the new North Central Florida Football Conference along with Pierson Taylor, Umatilla, Wildwood and The Villages. Fans are invited to a May 9 get-together where the Raiders’ new uniforms will be on display. “We’ll have food and drinks and try to introduce people to what we’re doing.”

Thrown into the breach barely a week before preseason practice last year, Joe Szymanski heads to his first spring as the Rams’ head coach having gotten through the getting-acquainted phase. It went well last year – a 4-5 record after four straight 1-9 campaigns (and 0-10 the year before that) – and has driven turnout to the point that as many as 60 prospects could participate this spring.

“We’ve had a lot more involvement in the offseason workouts because of it,” Szymanski said. “We’ve had a lot of guys coming out who haven’t been with us in the past. If we can get some contributions from them, it’ll help us out a lot.”

Prominent among the newcomers is quarterback Carter Kutcho, the starter for Gainesville Eastside at the beginning of last season. He’s expected to compete with rising junior varsity quarterback Brendan Trull. The winner will hand off to Uveeekie Fields, the Putnam County rushing champion as a sophomore in 2016, but he’ll be airing it out as well.

“The offense is going to be a lot different than what people saw last year,” said Szymanski, who didn’t have time incorporate his complete package in his first season. “We’re going to try to have a run-throw balance an be a little more up-tempo.”

That could be tough if the Rams cannot find suitable successors to seniors like Daniel Perez, Deadrell Brown and Cleveland McGruder, which is why Szymanski is eager to see what the spring brings.

“We’ve lost some really good secondary and wide receiver people, skill-position wise,” he said. “Losing a kicker (Logan White) is big. We’ve got three young kickers trying to win the job.”

In addition to Fields, key returning players include fullback Hunter Cole and middle linebacker Corey Atkins. Last year’s junior varsity center, Justin Darcy, and South Florida transfer Matt Murrinello, are among the prospects to replace quality front men Joel Makatura and Gabriel Denny,

Szymanski said he’ll call it a successful spring “if we get through it healthy and improve.”

Andy Hall is sports editor of the Palatka Daily News.

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