JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida High School Athletic Association made a few classification assignment changes for the upcoming prep football season. Schools on the First Coast were not immune to the realignment and many will now be playing in different districts, and in come cases, classes than they have in the past.
The changes are meant to keep the districts competitive as schools change size due to population and are based on school enrollment. These new classifications will last through the 2018 season.
With changes being seen along districts on the First Coast, we’ve decided to take a look at the new alignments, to see what districts have the most intrigue entering the 2015 season.
Class 7A, District 2:
Still Here: N/A.
New Arrivals: Atlantic Coast; Fletcher; First Coast; Robert E. Lee; Columbia.
District 2 is seeing a big shake up with five new schools entering the fold in 2015, including the perennial power house in First Coast. The Buccaneers drop down one classification from 8A to 7A, which could prove advantageous. Head coach Marty Lee is sure to have another crop of division I prospects as the Buccaneers should be the favorites in the division. The one question for First Coast will be how well they have been able to handle a multitude of distractions this offseason ranging from the shooting death of a teammate, to the legal troubles former quarterback De’Andre Johnson has found himself in recently. They will also have to find a way to replace Johnson, who won the 2014 Mr. Football Award and became the most prolific passer in Florida high school history in his four years as a Buccaneer.
Atlantic Coast and Fletcher come over from District 3 and both are doing it with new head coaches at the helm. Atlantic Coast, is starting a new era, as new head coach Matt Elliott takes over for Kevin Sullivan, who built the Stingray program from the ground up. Atlantic Coast isn’t expected to lose too much of their identity as Elliott served as an assistant under Sullivan for 13 years.
For the Senators, Ricky Medlock replaces Josh Corey who took a job with the Tennessee Titans. Medlock takes over a roster that is somewhat rebuilding as they are returning just five starters from 2014. Two of those starters, quarterback Alec Ademec and receiver Crisjohn Roscoe, will need to take the next step if Fletcher expects to compete with First Coast for the district title.
Columbia and Lee make the jump from Class 6A to 7A. Both are coming off seasons in which they won at least eight games, but the jump in classes may prove difficult it their first season.
As the classification jump could hurt Columbia and Lee in their first year, the classification drop should help First Coast (not that they need much). Look for the Buccaneers to take the district title in 2015.
Class 7A, District 3:
Still Here: Oakleaf, Fleming Island, Gainesville Buchholz.
New Arrivals: Bartram Trail, Creekside
This district saw Oakleaf come out of no where in 2014 to go undefeated in the regular season, winning the district for the first time in school history. The Knights return arguably the best player on the First Coast in linebacker Shaquille Quarterman. The University of Miami commit is the First Coast’s only 2016 ESPN Top 300 recruit, for now (No. 95 overall, No. 2 inside linebacker).
Joining the Knights in District 3 are a pair of teams from St. John’s county in Bartram Trail and Creekside. The two are not only making a district jump but are also making a classification jump from 6A to 7A. The move keeps Bartram and Creekside in the same district, allowing the young rivalry to continue as the schools are separated by less than nine miles.
Bartram presents an intriguing challenge to Oakleaf for the district championship as they boast one of the area’s youngest and brightest stars in sophomore quarterback Joey Gatewood. The dual-threat quarterback is one of the hottest recruits in the 2018 class, already getting offers from most major division I programs, with the Florida State Seminoels leading the way.
Buchholz and Fleming Island round out the five-team district. Fleming Island won the district in 2013-14, but stumbled in district play last year going 1-3, as did Buchholz.
The district should come down to either Oakleaf or Bartram Trail.
Class 6A, District 4:
Still Here: Nease; St. Augustine.
New Arrivals: Ed White; Englewood; Middleburg.
The intrigue in this district comes down to the influx of Duval County schools into a traditionally St. Johns County dominated district. In 2014, District 4 was made up of Nease, St. Augustine, Bartram Trail and Creekside, all of which are located in St. Johns county, and Matanzas, which is further south in Flagler county. As stated above, Bartram Trail and Creekside are off to Class 7A while Matanzas is dropping to Class 5A.
Enter two schools from Duval County in Ed White and Englewood, and one from Clay in Middleburg.
Ed White is coming off it’s best season (11-3) in over a decade that included a trip to the regional finals in 2014. However, there are two big questions swirling around the Commanders entering 2015. One is how they can replace the offensive production of running backs Taylor Thomas and Javaris Davis, both of whom left for division I college programs after graduating. The second is how they will handle the coaching change from Paul Pierson to Terry Gilliam.
St. Augustine returns as the district champions after a 10-2 season in 2014. The Yellow Jackets bring back their leading passer and rusher from last season in junior quarterback Cole Northrup and junior running back Jaquise Russell. The big question for St. Augustine will be in the receiving corps. Senior wide out Donald Sapp had the most receptions of any returning player with only 17 in 2014. Still, another year together for the offense should prove to be a good thing in the long run for St. Augustine.
With Nease, Englewood and Middleburgh all coming off sub .500 seasons, this district should be a two-team race between Ed White and St. Augustine.
As stated above, the intrigue in this one comes with the teams from different counties entering a distract that has largely been dominated by St. Johns County.
Look for St. Augustine to keep the district title in St. Johns County due to the returning offensive production for the Yellow Jackets paired with the questions surrounding Ed White.
Follow Tim Bee on Twitter at @timbeesports