One of the big question this season will be to see if Madison County can repeat as Class 1A state champions for the third straight year. [PHOTO - Joshua Wilson/FHSF]

In our Countdown to Kickoff series, we dive into a class by class preview for each of the FHSAA’s eight classifications starting with rural Class 1A.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Can Madison County get the three-peat?

That is one of the biggest questions in Class 1A. For the Cowboys, defending their state championship won’t be easy by any means as head coach Mike Coe has once again put together another challenging schedule. That includes matchups with some higher classification schools such as Columbia (Lake City), Dunnellon, Lakewood (St. Petersburg), and Crestview. The biggest difference is that Madison County will play two Class 1A teams this year up from just one the last two years with Crescent City and Jefferson County on the schedule.

Now, will this be the same Madison County teams as from last year working to go for this three-peat? The answer is no. Gone are the likes All-State players like Travis Jay, defensive tackle Terray Jones and defensive end Patrick Hampton. However, there are enough returning guys including first-team All-State players like offensive linemen like Zac Coe and Zane Herring, plus utility player Visonta Allen. Other all-state honorees like kicker/punter Thomas Miller, offensive lineman Le’Tavious Cuthbertson, receiver Derrion Staten, and safety Chalon Howard are also back for the Cowboys.

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So while not the same exact team Madison County had last year in going back-to-back for the first time in school history, it will have enough key pieces back that will make them favorites to win Class 1A for the third straight year.

Sunshine State Athletic Conference enters the Class 1A fold with the North Florida League

Earlier in the offseason, the Sunshine State Athletic Conference announced that a group of Class 1A schools across the Panhandle would be a part of their North Florida League, which will allow the teams to play for a league championship (think in terms of district championship) while also maintaining eligibility for the Class 1A playoffs.

There are 12 schools that will currently participate in the inaugural year of the North Florida League and they include: Baker, Blountstown, Cottondale, Franklin County (Eastpoint), Graceville, Holmes County (Bonifay), Jefferson County (Monticello), Liberty County (Bristol), Port St. Joe, Sneads, Vernon, and Wewahitchka.

All teams will play seven games that are already scheduled with the final remaining three games to complete the regular-season schedule will come from either playing in the North Florida League Championship bracket or in the round-robin North Florida Series Bracket. The top eight teams will make the championship bracket while the remaining four teams will play round-robin. The losers in the championship bracket in the first week of the North Florida League championship round will move into the “Big Bend Brawl” bracket to finish out their season. All of this will start in Week 9 of the regular season.

The ultimate prize of the North Florida League Championship, as well as a few additional games, will be played Week 11 at Tommy Oliver Stadium in Panama City. The date for those game will be Saturday, November 2.

Welcome back home (and a new face)

While Frostproof is gone from the classification after exceeding the enrollment numbers by quite a bit, Fort White, Newberry, and Trenton have made their way back into the classification after two years. While Fort White and Newbery were moved from Class 1A to Class 3A after the FHSAA switched to the new seeding format for the playoffs two years ago, their enrollment numbers fell back under 600, which is a requirement to be a part of the rural Class 1A. Trenton came back from Class 4A after serving a two-year penalty for violating an FHSAA bylaw regarding recruiting of another school’s athlete.

The new face in Class 1A is Taylor County (Perry) which joins the Class 1A ranks after being in Class 3A for the last few years. The Bulldogs could certainly be a team that might make some noise in this classification, but it remains to be seen if this transition into the rural class will benefit them over the next two years.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

NOTE: Players to watch is guided more around abilities on the field than star-rankings. A lot of this list is derived from last season’s FloridaHSFootball.com All-State Teams and while we would love to list everyone from every program, we had to make some considerations for this list for the preview.

Visonta Allen, Madison County, Sr. – The versatile utility player will be a key force again this season after racking up 1,616 yards rushing with 15 touchdowns, 319 receiving yards with three touchdowns, returning three punts for scores while garnering first-team all-state honors last season.

Jaxson Beach, Lafayette, Sr. – The starting quarterback has been a first-team all-state selection the last two years. Threw for 2,108 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing for 1,143 yards and 15 more touchdowns.

Tylar Barbato, Hawthorne, Sr. – One of the state’s leading punter in Class 1A last season, earning first-team all-state honors.

Zac Coe, Madison County, Sr. – The son of head coach Mike Coe will lead the way again at center after racked up an 89% blocking grade along with first-team all-state honors last season.

Le’Tavious Cuthbertson, Madison County, Sr. – The offensive guard had an 85% blocking grade for the defending state champion Cowboys, which lead to second-team all-state honors last season.

Jaheem Durant, Northview, Jr. – Durant is a player that is worth watching after racking up 45 tackles and eight sacks on the way to be recognized on the second-team all-state team.

Elijah Flanders, Chiefland, Jr. – Only a junior, Flanders had an incredible season last year as a sophomore where he was one of the top-graded linemen for the regional finalist Indians, leading to second-team all-state honors.

Robert Glanton, Taylor County, Sr. – All-around player that did it all for the Bulldogs last season with stats at quarterback, receiver, rushing, defense and on special teams that earned him second-team all-state honors.

Zane Herring, Madison County, Sr. – The starting offensive guard for the Cowboys had an 87% blocking grade last season along with first-team all-state honors.

Jacquez Hughes, Jefferson County, Sr. – Hughes led the Tigers last season eight interceptions, 47 tackles and had over 1,200 all-purpose yards on the way to second-team all-state honors.

Jarrett Jerrels, Chiefland, Sr. – Jerrels was one of Chiefland’s standout playmakers at linebacker, racking up 100 tackles (seven for loss), two sacks, four interceptions, and three touchdowns on the way to second-team all-state honor last season.

Latarie Kinsler, Pahokee, Sr. – The defensive end will be one to watch after having a huge season last year that included 14 sacks with 56 tackles to go along with first-team all-state honors.

Trey Kolmetz, Baker, Sr. – One of the top defensive playmakers from the state runner-up team last season, Kolmetz earned first-team all-state honors with 93 tackles (six for loss) performance with four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

Christian Lopez, Crescent City, Jr. – With second-team all-state recognition from last season, Lopez will be another of the top special teams’ specialist in Class 1A this season.

Eric McQueen, Baker, Sr. – The defensive end who was named on the second-team all-state team racked up 62 tackles last season (seven for loss) with four sacks and two forced fumbles plus an interception return for a touchdown.

Thomas Miller, Madison County, Sr. – Was the leading kicker in Class 1A last season, grabbing first-team all-state honors.

Marcus Niblack, Wildwood, Sr. – Was the leading receiver for the Wildcats last year, catching 35 passes for 797 yards and 10 touchdowns with second-team all-state honors to go with it.

K’wan Powell, Vernon, Jr. – One of the fastest rising names in Class 1A football, Powell rushed for over 1,100 yards and scored 16 touchdowns last season at running back while earning second-team all-state honors.

Dustin Oglesby, Baker, Sr. – The starting center for the Gators had 84 pancake blocks with his 92% blocking grade last season leading to second-team all-state honors.

Naykee Scott, Crescent City, Sr. – Scott returns for his senior year after leading the Raiders with over 2,000 yards of combined offense last season and 30 touchdowns that gave him second-team all-state honors.

Seth Scott, Sneads, Sr. – A leading safety for the Pirates last season, Scott racked up 102 tackles (eight for loss), four-and-half sacks, and one interception on the way to second-team all-state honors.

GeKobe Smith, Jefferson County, Sr. – One of the leading linebackers last season for the Tigers, Smith earned second-team all-state honors with 133 tackles (17 for loss), seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.

Treven Smith, Blountstown, Sr. – Key leader for the Tigers in the rushing department, but also was just as dangerous as a returner which garnered the multisport athlete first-team all-state honor last season.

Demari Stephens, Taylor County, Sr. – A leading tight end in Class 3A last year had six touchdowns from his position while earning second-team all-state honors.

Calvin Stringer, Sneads, Jr. – The second-team all-state running back rushed for over 1,400 yards last season and scored 24 touchdowns for the Pirates.

Zack Thomas, Sneads, Jr. – The man that was one of the biggest reasons, Calvin Stringer had such a great season last year for the Pirates that lead him to second-team all-state honors.

Donovan Wright, Hawthorne, Sr. – Starter at left offensive tackle was a recipient of first-team all-state honors last season as one of the Hornets’ most consistent linemen.

THE FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL

Madison County – With a lot of talent returning once again this season, it would be shocking if the Cowboys didn’t complete their first-ever three-peat.

NEXT IN LINE

Vernon – The Yellowjackets have been close to getting to the big game, but they might just have the pieces now to make it to Tallahassee this season which be the first time in school history to do it if they can do so.

Baker – The Gators have been known for greatness, so a deep playoff run or even another trip to the state championship game would not be impossible to dream of, but there might be a couple of stronger teams standing in their way.

Chiefland – The Indians having some quality players returning along with John Palmer taking over as head coach as this Levy County squad potentially in the mix thanks to now being in Region 4.

Hawthorne – Enough talent remains from last year’s state semifinal team potentially have enough to make a run for a state championship, but some tough teams remain in the way for it to happen.

Pahokee – With as tough of a schedule as the Blue Devils play, they are a team that should never be counted out of the state championship talk in Class 1A, but its a crowed Class 1A South bracket that will determine how far they go this year.

SLEEPERS

Port St. Joe – The Tiger Sharks are always in the mix for a possible deep playoff or state championship run with the homegrown talent they have on the roster every year. The biggest thing of concern would be the crowded field of teams coming out of Class 1A North.

Lafayette – Got some talent, but could it be enough to get them deep into the playoffs this season? That will be the biggest question that will get answered during the regular season.

Jefferson County – Some excellent talent on the field, but will the last second coaching change heading into the season derail plans for a potentially deep playoff run? All depends on how the team has come together during this bump in the road.

Fort White – The Indians have been a consistent playoff contender with solid talent on the field, but could they be a sleeper for a deep run in the playoffs as long as injuries don’t get in the way of this plan?

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11 GAMES TO WATCH

Here are 11 games that could have an impact on the Class 1A playoff standings. Do note that are way more games that are worth watching that could be included on the list but wanted to focus on one game each week. Additional games will be spotlighted each week during the season.

WEEK 1

Dixie County at Taylor County, Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.

The annual rivalry game between the neighboring counties will get the season started off.

WEEK 2

Madison County at Jeffferson County, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m.

The ultimate test for the host Tigers to open up the 2019 season against the defending state champions.

WEEK 3

Lafayette at Chiefland, Sep. 6, 7:30 p.m.

It might not be 1997 (when they played each other for the Class 2A state championship), but this is a game worth watching as it will have a profound impact later on with the playoff race.

WEEK 4

Baker at Northview, Sep. 13, 7:00 p.m. CT

A solid rivalry matchup between two longtime Class 1A foes that could set the tone for the regional standings.

WEEK 5

Dixie County at Chiefland, Sep. 20, 7:30 p.m.

Another huge rivalry game right here that will certainly have an impact on the playoff race.

WEEK 6

Fort White at Taylor County, Sep. 27, 7:30 p.m.

Familiar foes over the last couple of years will meet on the field for a test to determine what the second half the season will look like for both.

WEEK 7

Blountstown at Port St. Joe, Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.

Hurricane Michael dashed the rivalry last season but expect this game to have a lot of meaning on the Class 1A regional standing this season.

WEEK 8

Vernon at Taylor County, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.

A solid test for both programs in the second half of the season as both look for playoff positioning.

WEEK 9

Hawthorne at Union County, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.

Both teams have been consistently in the playoff mix the last couple of years and this game is on the schedule for that reason.

WEEK 10

Jay at Bozeman, Oct. 25, 7:00 p.m. CT

This game could have a potential impact on both the Region 1 and Region 2 playoff standings.

WEEK 11

Pahokee at Glades Central (4A), Nov. 1, 6:00 p.m.

Muck Bowl! That is all we have to say here on this.

REGION PREDICTIONS

Region 1

1. Vernon

2. Baker

3. Northview

4. Holmes County

5. Freeport

6. Jay

7. Chipley

8. Cottondale

9. Graceville

Region 2

1. Port St. Joe

2. Jefferson County

3. Sneads

4. Taylor County

5. Blountstown

6. Bozeman

7. Wewahitchka

8. Liberty County

9. Franklin County

Region 3

1. Madison County

2. Lafayette

3. Fort White

4. Dixie County

5. Union County

6. Branford

7. Bell

8. Hamilton County

9. Hilliard

Region 4

1. Pahokee

2. Chiefland

3. Hawthorne

4. Crescent City

5. Wildwood

6. Fort Meade

7. Williston

8. Trenton

9. Newberry

10. Bronson