August 16, 2022

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5 bold Big Bend football predictions from prep sports reporter Jack Williams

Chiles quarterback Trent Hartung (6) celebrates after the team defeated Madison County High School Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the 2022 All-Big Bend Player of the Year?

Well, I can’t tell you that. However, I can give you a few other bold predictions I have for the upcoming football season. We are only halfway through the summer season so there is a ton and tons of football to be played, but these are some hypotheses I have so far.

Get out the crystal ball and cue the wire lighting. Here are my five bold predictions for the Big Bend football season.

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No. 1: Jefferson Co. posts first winning record since 2018

Jefferson County quarterback Haven Francis looks to find an open receiver versus North Florida Christian in Monticello on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

Jefferson County quarterback Haven Francis looks to find an open receiver versus North Florida Christian in Monticello on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

It’s been a rough stretch since 2018 for the Tigers. Since 2018, after going 7-5 and making it to 1A Region 2 championship game, Jefferson County has gone 5-26, going 0-9 in 2020. However, there’s been a change in the tides in Monticello, which benefited the program early on.

The hiring of Lenorris Footman as the program’s next head football coach was the school district’s first official hire as an independent body. Footman was the quarterback when Jefferson County won the state title in 2011 and has rejuvenated the program from the coaching standpoint. There’s a new life and new hope in Jefferson County, and new confidence to win.

Add the return of Juvon Pettway, one of Lincoln’s top receivers from last season, and you have a pretty deep squad taking the gridiron this fall. Considering that the Tigers are playing in the rural classification this year after being up in 2A last season, it’s a very real possibility for this team to end the season with a winning record and a spot in the playoffs.

I know that the Jefferson County faithful are eager to get back into the postseason and I believe this could be the start of something great.

No. 2: Chiles makes the playoffs

The Chiles team cheers as their Head Coach Kevin Pettis talks with them after defeating Madison County High School Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.

The Chiles team cheers as their Head Coach Kevin Pettis talks with them after defeating Madison County High School Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.

There are a lot of good things happening at Chiles right now, and it started with the program going undefeated in spring jamboree play. Despite only playing on half in, each game, the Timberwolves bested area powers like Lincoln and Wakulla, standing as a statement on its own.

Chiles is bringing back a good 80 percent, maybe even higher, of later years’ team, and is boasting some of the largest turnout numbers in the Big Bend, returning its 1000+ yard running back its five-star kicker, and a very strong offensive line. There are some questions when it comes to the defensive unit and passing game, but that’s what the summer is for.

The Timberwolves were in a handful of close games last year but saw the end result slide away from them in the second half. They went 4-6 but could’ve easily finished 6-4, as they had large leads over Rickards and Creekside before the game got away from them. They are playing a pretty manageable schedule this season and have the experience to win those tight games. I believe that Chiles will break into the postseason for the first time since 2019.

No. 3: Munroe, NFC play for regional title

Munroe defeated University Christian, 36-23, on Nov. 19, 2021 at Gadsden County High School in Class 2A Region 1 semifinals.

Munroe defeated University Christian, 36-23, on Nov. 19, 2021 at Gadsden County High School in Class 2A Region 1 semifinals.

Before I go into this, I just want to say that this region is going to be an absolute battle. You have three of the best small-school programs in the Big Bend, Munroe, North Florida Christian, and St. John Paul II, all battling it out for a state semifinal bid, and don’t have to go through Trinity Christian or University Christian anymore.

After that, you have two teams people don’t know too much about in FAMU DRS and Maclay that could easily flip the script. However, with the way things are aligning early on, AND THAT COULD CHANGE, NFC and Munroe look almost destined for each other. Both have recruited extremely heavy, are now experienced, and packing a ton of talent.

Munroe had already harnessed big talent in Ahmari Borden, Keishawn Mashburn, Kelvin Crawford, and others, but has added on the likes of Makari Vickers and Makhi Brown, to have its depth chart absolutely explode. The Bobcats have made this huge jump from a good small school to being a state title contender.

A few miles south in Tallahassee, NFC has also done the same in holding onto talent like JP Pickles and Traylon Ray, while adding guys like Leon Washington and Zion Paret. The Eagles had a strong showing as a. young group last season, going 6-5, but having that experience now and only adding more talent, the window has opened up even more for this team.

JPII is still very much a horse in this race, but right now it’s between Munroe and NFC for who gets that state semifinals big. I would even go as far as saying the winner of this region has a very high chance of winning state. These two teams face off on Oct 28 in Quincy, right before the playoffs. You’re gonna want to mark that one down.

No. 4: Despite new coaching, Madison County goes back to state title game

Madison County Cowboys celebrate their victory. Madison County defeated Hawthorne 13-12 to claim the Class 1A State Championship title at Gene Cox Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.

Madison County Cowboys celebrate their victory. Madison County defeated Hawthorne 13-12 to claim the Class 1A State Championship title at Gene Cox Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.

Madison County is unlike any other small school program in the state. Sure, my counterparts in Plam Beach and Gainesville would likely say that Pahokee, Hawthorne, or Chiefland beg to differ, but there have been very few programs that have dominated like the Cowboys have over the last five seasons.

Things are different with Mike Coe not at the helm after coaching this team for a decade, but I’m not sure if that’s going to hit the program as hard as many suspect. Price Harris isn’t new to the Florida high school football scene, or success in it. Dunnellon is a strong program, that actually handed Madison County one of its three losses of the year.

That being said, Madison County is still maintaining a ton of talent with guys like Jamie Hampton, Jonathan Akins, Jahon Jackson, and so many others. These guys still know how to win and its new coach does as well. The Cowboys pretty much went unchallenged until the title game and there’s nothing saying that the same thing can’t happen again. It’s become almost an expectation in Madison.

I don’t see why this team can’t get to thj state championship again.

No. 5: Florida High wins 2S state title

The Florida High Seminoles crush the Leon Lions at Gene Cox Stadium with a final score of 53-3 Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

The Florida High Seminoles crush the Leon Lions at Gene Cox Stadium with a final score of 53-3 Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

The Seminoles took some senior losses, graduating Tre Donaldson, Drew Faurot, Jordan Gilley, and others that played major role into the program’s success over the last four seasons, but this program has not fallen off at all. In fact, with the metro/suburban split, I believe that this is the year for the Seminoles to bring a state title to Southwood.

While you are seeing teams like Gadsden County, South Walton, West Florida and Wakulla moving into the same classification, Florida High is still experienced, talented and well coached enough to withstand a change. Mind you, this is a team that constantly faced teams like Trinity Christian, Chaminade Madonna and other South Florida private schools deep into the playoffs.

Donovan Barnes and Chris Cotton are going to be spearheading the defensive effort, while the offense brings back huge weapons in Rhyder Poppell, Micahi Danzy, Brooks Hickman, and Ashton Hampton. It is a little bit of a risk with this prediction as Florida High will be moving a new quarterback into the starting role, but I believe the pieces around him are strong enough to make up the difference, and he should be able to adapt pretty quickly.

This is the year for Florida High. With this might possibly being the only year that those metro private schools are not competing in the same classification as the Seminoles, Florida High is a huge favorite to take that crown.

Jack Williams covers prep sports for Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @jackgwilliams. 

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Bold 2022 Big Bend high school football predictions for Florida