Orlando Health St. Cloud Hospital
By:  J. Daniel Pearson

This past season was a typical year for the Osceola Kowboys football team. Osceola absolutely dominated district competition (3-0, outscoring opponents 150-10), they won six of nine regular season games against arguably the toughest schedule in the state, and then proceeded to win three post-season games and capture a regional championship before finally falling to eventual state champion Lakeland – in a game where they took the lead into the fourth quarter.

About the only thing unusual about Osceola’s season was that for the first time in recent memory the vast majority of its best players were seniors.  A record five of them — Jamarion McCrimon (East Carolina), John Walker (UCF), Bo Mascoe (Rutgers), Ja’Keem Jackson (Florida),  and Derrick LeBlanc (UCF) – signed Division-1 football offers. Several others will play at smaller schools.  QB David Buggs, WRs Terry Cruz and TJ Massey, nose tackle Elijah Palermo, LB Drevon Lee and DBs Lecory Walker and Jayden Bradford – all important starters – were among the more than dozen players departing via graduation.

At first glance, it would appear Osceola might be destined to take a step back – especially since they are once again playing the same brutal schedule that includes seven 2022 playoff teams including state power Jones, Lakeland, Seminole, Mainland and West Orange.

Still you would be hard-pressed to find any opposing coaches or fans feeling sorry for the Kowboys.  

Head Coach Eric Pinellas believes his team has the talent to not only compete against the best in the state but to also continue its dominance locally, and make another deep run in the post-season.

“One of the things is we never emphasize the regular season.  Our goal every year is to play for a state championship.  Sure, we could schedule nine or 10 wins every season, but if you are not playing the best teams, you will never be ready for the post-season.  Our mindset is to always use the regular season to get ready for the playoffs.”

Despite the heavy losses to graduation, Osceola should field talented athletes at most positions.  The strength of its offense should be on the offensive line, where the Kowboys return four of five starters.  They include Antonio Cruz at center, seniors Joseph Green and Cameran Dekle at guard, and Thomas Gearity at right tacke.  McCrimmon, who played left tackle last year, is being replaced by 6-6, 300-lb. sophomore Marcus Ferrer – a reserve last year that is already being offered by division one schools around the country. 

“We feel real good about our offensive line, Coach (Jarrod) Atterberry does a great job with that group,” Pinellas said. “We played a lot of backups last year like Marcus, we return four starters, but we also developed some great depth on the line.”

One of the Kowboy starters returning is junior running back Taevion Swint.  Although suffering a minor knee injury in the summer, he is expected to be back for the regular season as he continues to pile up mind-boggling and record setting numbers.  As a freshman, he backed up his brother Ja’Randy and still piled up 1100 yards and 1t touchdowns.  In his sophomore year, the UCF commit rushed for 1600 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. Sophomores Jeff Sinophant had an outstanding freshman season in a backup role.

Osceola will have explosive offensive players on the outside.  Sophomore Alijah Jenkins is a home run threat as both a WR and a kick returner; while Notorious Reynolds is a versatile player who can be used all over the field.

With Buggs’ graduation and the decision of Gunner Holland to concentrate on wrestling for his senior season, Osceola is left without an experienced quarterback heading into the season.  Although Reynolds played quarterback in the spring game, a pair of transfers — Anthony Powers (Live Oak) and Cameron West (Tohopekaliga) – will battle in the preseason for the job.  After summer workouts, Powers – a sophomore — is the early leader to win the job.  “Anthony is a big kid and has a good arm,” Pinellas noted.  “But it’s not like you are going to see Osceola drop back and throw the ball 40 times a game anyways.  We need one of those guys to come in, run our offense and occasionally make a play with their arm.”

Although the Kowboys lost a ton of talent on the defense, there is little concern side of the ball will be a liability.  “Even though we lost our top three off the DL, coach Rob Vansickle rotated eight guys on the line last year.  We have players like Jaquille Knox, Daniel Morales and Oniel Morel that are ready to step in.  Blaze Jones is a sophomore who has the potential to be a big-time player and we are moving junior Elijah VanSickle (6-2, 240) to the defensive line.”

At linebacker, the Kowboys return leading tackler Robert Lee and are expecting big things from junior Elijah Melendez in the middle.  Although three starters depart in the backfield, Osceola does return Jeff Banks. Youngsters Kyri Watson, Ja’Mario Bradford, and Larenz Walker could factor in the backfield.  But it is senior Jalen Bell that Pinellas says is one of the main reasons he is not worried about his defense. Although listed as a safety, the Kowboys will line Bell up as outside linebacker or even defensive end, where he used his speed to create havoc when rushing the quarterback, providing run support or covering receivers.  

“Jalen always had a lot of talent but didn’t have a lot of drive in his first two seasons,” Pinellas said.  “He worked his tail off and came to me before the start of last year and said ‘you are not going to be able to keep me off the field’ and he then delivered on that promise.  Going into this year, he is going to be the heart and soul of this defense.”  

That difficult schedule includes two tough road games to open the season, five consecutive home games in the middle and three road contests the back end.  Must see home games include back-to-back games against 5A state power Jones (Sept. 9) and defending state champion Lakeland (9/15).  The Kowboys will also host St. Cloud in the 100th edition of The Game, on Sept. 29.

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2023 Schedule

Kickoff Classic (Exhibition)

  • Aug. 18 Apopka 7 p.m.

Regular Season

  • Aug. 25 at Treasure Coast 7:30 p.m.
  • Sept. 1 at Seminole 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 8 Jones 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 15 Lakeland 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 22 Rockledge 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 29 St. Cloud 7 p.m.*
  • Oct. 13 Celebration 7 p.m.*
  • Oct. 20 at Daytona Beach Mainland 7:30 p.m.
  • Oct. 27 at Tohopekaliga 7:30 p.m.*
  • Nov. 3 at West Orange 7:30 p.m.