The Northeast Florida region has brought home numerous state championship trophies over the last few decades. However, Duval County itself has only had one public school win a state title and that came in 1997 with Raines defeating Glades Central in Class 4A. However, overall as the region, could any of these teams make a deep run this year? Took a look at our Top 10 for Northeast Florida and see for yourself who could be on top this season.
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1. Trinity Christian (13-1)
Why: 22 on 22, there may not be another talented team in the state as highly regarded as Trinity Christian. The Conquerors deep roster includes Division I commits from not only its senior class but its junior, sophomore and freshman class. With all that talent anything but defending their state title would be considered an epic failure. The offense is stacked led by Chris Barr (Sr., WR), Jalin Buie (Jr., RB) and Kevin Tolliver (Sr., ATH). Defensively it will be hard to score on the Conquerors with Kendrick Norton (Sr., DL), Andre Smith (Sr., LB), Deontai Williams (Sr., DB), Ben Edwards (Sr., DB) and Jeffrey Holland (Sr., ATH).
2. First Coast (11-2)
Why: Like previous seasons, First Coast rolled through the regular season easily only to have to come down to earth in the postseason. Wins over Lake Brantley and Lake Mary set up a huge showdown with defending state champion Apopka in the third round, but the Blue Darters sent the Bucs back home with a 42-20 loss. Four year starting quarterback FSU commit Deondre Johnson (3,007 yards, 40 TDs) is back with an arsenal of weapons including USC commit Tristan Payton (Sr., WR), FSU commit D.J. Matthews (So., WR), South Carolina commit Jerad Washington (Sr., WR). The defense is loaded led by South Carolina commit Sherrod Pittman (Sr., LB) but can they step up come playoff time and lead the Bucs back to Orlando again.
3. Bolles (10-4)
Why: With 11 state titles and 4 state runner-up finishes, anything but getting to the state finals is considered a terrible season for the state’s top all-time program. Legendary coach Corky Rogers has guided the Bulldogs to 10 state titles, but back-to-back losses to Booker T Washington in the state finals has left a bad taste with the Bulldogs. Rogers returns three of his best playmakers senior tailback Dexter Carter Jr. (1726 yards, 33 TDs), senior tailback Christian Bermudez (1516 yards, 22 TDs) and senior wide receiver Tyrell Moorer (1063 yards, 7 TDs). Senior quarterback Joe Edden is back as well for his second season and should have plenty of confidence guiding an offense that will have to carry the team until its young defense comes along.
4. Clay (10-5)
Why: With a 3-4 start, it didn’t look good for Clay and their chances of making the state playoffs. However, with their backs against the wall, head coach Josh Hoekstra guided the Blue Devils to not only three consecutive wins to clinch a playoff berth but four additional playoff wins which put them in the state finals for the first time since 1967. A 66-8 loss to Plantation American Heritage in the Class 5A state final was humiliating but the long unexpected playoff run will pay dividends for this season. Playmakers senior athlete JT Turner (1500 all-purpose yards,, 8 TDs), junior tailback Bilal Ally (1010 yards, 10 TDs) along with highly regarded freshman tailback Colin Wilson should form another high scoring offense. The front seven on a ferocious defense is back, including senior Josh Grayer, who set a school record with 17 sacks.
5. Fletcher (10-3)
Why: If we have learned anything from watching Fletcher under head coach Josh Corey, it’s never under estimate the Senators. Three straight double digit wins and long playoff runs have once again set up high expectations for this program. The offense led by Auggie Debiase (Jr., QB), Florida commit Kalif Jackson (Sr., WR) and senior tailback Matt Henderson, back from a hip injury which cost him to miss the last 10 games of the season, will be hard to stop. Can the Senators take that next step and make it to Orlando finally?
6. Ed White (8-3)
Why: A 30 point loss at home to Bartram Trail in the first round of the state playoffs served as plenty of motivation in the spring and now in the fall. The good news is the best backfield trio in the state is all back and will be a nightmare for opposing defenses to try to stop. Senior tailbacks North Carolina commit Javarius Davis, Utah commit Taylor Thomas and Deshawn Patterson combined for nearly 3000 yards of offense themselves. A defense led by Mytreal Denson will have to tighten up after giving up 89 points in two of its three losses.
7. Raines (9-3)
Why: All the indications last season pointed to Raines being a sure lock to advance to their first state final, since winning their only state title in 1997. A goal line fumble in the closing seconds against Bolles at home in the regional final cost the Vikings a 35-28 loss and spot in the state semi-finals. Coach Deran Wiley will have his Vikings back in the playoffs again and competing against Bolles for a state semi-finals berth. To get there though, a young Vikings team will have to grow up quickly with the loss of several starters. Senior quarterback Micah Zanders, brother of last year’s starting quarterback Marvin Zanders now at Missouri, is one of the newcomers to keep an eye on.
8. Fleming Island (10-1)
Why: Fleming Island rolled through the regular season nearly unchallenged completing the school’s first undefeated regular season. With home field advantage locked up till at least the third round of the state playoffs, it looked like the Eagles would coast into the regional finals. Unfortunately, Oak Ridge stunned the Eagles 48-41 in overtime in the first round. If the Eagles don’t want a repeat of last season, a secondary which surrendered seven touchdown passes in the playoffs needs to get much better. Junior tailback Trey Sneed leads an Eagles team that has won 12 consecutive regular season games and has plenty of motivation this season.
9. St. Augustine (8-3)
Why: If any newcomer needed a quick reminder on what the expectations are at St. Augustine, longtime head coach Joey Wiles (178-41, 18 seasons) made sure to get their attention. Wiles t-shirt simply read: 1 state title, 2 state runner ups, 7 final fours, 18 district titles and 21 playoff appearances. However, when you have won 10 consecutive district titles and been to the state playoffs every year since 1999, you’re not satisfied with just getting to the playoffs. Back-to-back first round playoff losses to Columbia should have the Yellow Jackets hungry for another playoff run especially with the return of leaders sophomore quarterback Cole Northrup (1962 yards, 24 TDs), senior tailback Patrick Stewart and senior cornerback Larry Woodard.
10. Bartram Trail (8-6)
Why: There is an old saying that says it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. A 0-5 start could have spiraled into a unthinkable disastrous losing season; however the Bears were able to turn around when it counted the most and reel off eight consecutive wins to reach the state semi-finals. Longtime coach Darrell Sutherland (98-67, 15 years) has guided the Bears to the playoffs 12 out of the last 13 years including the state semi-finals two of the last three years. Providing he can quickly mold several newcomers to go along with leader junior tailback David Coleman (1400 yards) the Bears should be contending for another playoff run.