Going into IMG Academy’s spring football game, there were a few things in particular worth watching:
How would the offense look now that the team can’t rely on five-star running back Trey Sanders and Noah Cain? How would the defensive line perform without the No. 2 player in the country, Nolan Smith?
Would we get any glimpses at who can be the next big Ascender?
IMG lost seven players rated four-stars or better. The team, ranked No. 8 in the Way-Too-Early Preseason Super 25 Rankings, is trying to figure out who can replace them.
As is the case in all spring games, this scrimmage against Ridge Community High School (Haines City, Fla.) wasn’t a tell-all. However, there were a few things worth noting as summer begins for IMG (Bradenton, Fla.).
IMG still looks to be a run-heavy team even without Sanders and Cain, and three running acks showed strong play.
Junior RB Chandler McGruder looks to be a power runner who can fight through defenders for extra yards. He had some big runs, particularly on the first drive, but he was also stripped once in the backfield.
Jack Codwell, who will be a senior next year, also looks to be a powerful runner. Early on, a defender got a handful of jersey in the backfield, but Codwell pulled through and escaped for a large gain. He had a few big carries on the day.
But perhaps the most impressive was eighth grader Xavier Terrell, who scored two touchdowns on the day and very nearly had a third on a 44-yard run at which he got tackled right around the one-yard line.
Unlike the other two, Terrell is pure speed and shiftiness. He takes off like a bolt and gets into space quickly with good footwork. It’s unclear if he’ll get much work immediately as a freshman or if he’ll have to wait his turn, but don’t be surprised to see Terrell make a name for himself at some point over the next four years.
There was a fair mix of passing offense to go with the running. Many were quick, short passes, but the most notable play by someone not named Terrell was probably the 65-yard bomb to four-star wide receiver Michael Redding III, the highest-rated junior on the team.
With excellent protection up front — the line looked formidable as a whole, even without five-star OL Evan Neal — the quarterback had time to sit and wait. Redding caught the ball without a defender on screen (the broadcaster said he had 30 yards of space) and walked into the end zone.
The IMG offense has playmakers. It’s up to the coaching staff to find out who they are and how to best utilize them.
The defense was a mixed bag, by IMG standards.
If you gave its defensive line a couple seconds to get to the backfield, they would. Passes that didn’t cross the line of scrimmage were typically brought down immediately, including a couple hard hits early by junior linebacker Bruce Seton.
On one drive inside the five-yard line, four-star Warren Brinson got a handful of jersey from a running back who looked like he was going to evade and find room. Instead, Brinson took him down.
But if the QB could quickly find a hole and scramble, he was more than likely going to pick up a few yards – and sometimes, lots of them.
IMG also wasn’t as disciplined as they would be during the season. What should have been an easy interception and pick-six for Zach Boot was called back due to a late hit away from the ball by the highest-rated defender, four-star Lejond Cavazos.
On the next play, Cavazos was penalized for another late hit.
IMG outplayed Ridge Community by a large margin, but not to the amount the nation is accustomed to from the football powerhouse.
That’s very forgivable, of course, as it’s still mid-May. No team looks good three months before the season begins.
This game gave small glimpses at who the Ascenders can be, though it did not give real answers to questions.