Osceola County’s eight public high school football coaches awoke last Friday morning expecting to use the pre-season Kickoff Classic games scheduled for that night to answer serious questions about their 2022 teams. Only one of those coaches – Poinciana’s Randy Beeken – got any of those questions answered.
Severe lightning storms hit the area at 6 p.m. and lingered well in the evening – forcing the cancellation of 31 games in the Central Florida area. Of the eight games scheduled for Osceola County teams, only Poinciana got to play. The Eagles game was scheduled for Avon Park in Highlands County and although lightning did force a one-hour delay at halftime, the game was played in its entirety.
The Eagles, who are coming off a 2-7 season, came away with an impressive 28-16 win. Perry Garrett, a transfer running back from Osceola, scored a touchdown and had an interception. D’Kwan Bradley, a transfer quarterback from the state of North Carolina, threw one touchdown pass and ran for another; while returning defensive back Michael Centeno had two interceptions.
“We had a lot of good things happen to us and had a lot of questions answered,” Beeken said. “The players have worked really hard in pre-season camp and were able to see the potential this team has.” The Eagles will open their regular season on the road, facing Parrish – a team that defeated the Eagles 33-8 a year ago. “They are still a really good team and they dominated their Kickoff game,” Beeken said. “They will be a great test for us.”
Osceola, who was scheduled to play state-power Apopka on Friday, now will turn its attention to Treasure Coast on its Friday opener at home. Based in Port St. Lucie, the Titans went 10-2 last year and made it to the Class 8A State semifinals. In the newly created Suburban division, they certainly are a potential future playoff opponent for the Kowboys.
It is the first of seven opponents the Kowboys will face this year that qualified for the playoffs last season. Osceola is facing perhaps the toughest schedule in the state with games against Lakeland, West Orange, Seminole and Sarasota Riverview also scheduled.
Pinellas said the Kickoff Game cancellation hurts, as he was hoping to use the game to evaluate players at several key positions including linebacker and quarterback – where junior Gunner Holland has been battling senior transfer Danny Buggs for the starting job.
Harmony, coming off a 5-4 season, saw its pre-season game at Freedom cancelled and will now open on the road against Eustis, a team that went 7-4 last season. “They are a really solid team with a lot of returners at the skill position and on defense,” Longhorns coach Don Simon said. “They have a new quarterback but from what I saw on film during their spring game, he can sling it around pretty good. This is one of many games on our schedule that could go either way.”
St. Cloud’s contest with Windermere was also cancelled but coach Mike Short says his team will be ready to go on Friday when it plays Central Florida Christian Academy at home. The Bulldogs will hope to improve on last year’s 3-6 mark but will be challenged by the small private school in the opener.
“They are a lot like the better private schools in Central Florida,” Short said. “They take a lot of pride in their athletic programs. CFCA does not have a lot of depth but they have really good players on both the offense and defense and will challenge us.” Central Florida Christian went 7-2 last season.
Short added that a surprise did pop up in training camp as freshman Bryce Williams will most likely challenge for a starting spot. The brother of former St. Cloud standout Tyler Williams, Bryce was undecided about even playing football but immediately started turning the heads of coaches upon his arrival.
“We have stuck him a corner, safety and even linebacker and nothing rattles this kid. He definitely has a chance to be a really good football player for a very long time for us,” Short said.
Celebration, under new head coach Jeremy Palmer, travels to Ridge for its season opener after its home kickoff classic with Davenport was also cancelled. The Storm had just its second winning season in school history last year but saw its first year coach Rich Pringle resign in order to take over the head coach job at Lake Gibson – where he served the previous two years as defensive coordinator.
Palmer says the development of his offensive and defensive lines will hold the key to the 2022 season. “We have a lot of upperclassmen, who have a ton of experience at the skill positions,” Palmer said. “But we are really young on both the offensive and defensive lines. We need to get those players some experience.” Ridge was 5-5 last season; while the Storm went 7-4 and posted just their second winning season in school history.
One team that could have really used the pre-season game was Tohopekaliga, under new head coach Anthony Paradiso. “Losing the Kickoff game was really disappointing for us,” Paradiso said about the Tigers cancelled pre-season game at Oak Ridge. “Between freshmen, transfers and new kids who came out, we simply do not have the same team this fall that were during the spring. We were planning on using the Kickoff Classic to make some roster decisions on both starting and backup positions.”
One position that is set for the Tigers is quarterback, where freshman Sabby Meassick will start. He received a division one offer for Florida last year while playing as an 8th grader for a private school. “He’s the most polished and intelligent 14-year-old I have ever seen,” Paradiso said. “What is really amazing is he has not anywhere near as big as he is going to get, yet he can still make all the throws right now.”
Tohopekaliga opens at home against Liberty, which had its kickoff game with Lake Buena Vista also cancelled. The Chargers are under first year coach Antony Smith, who took over Aug. 5 after the sudden resignation of Brett Munroe for health reasons.
Gateway opens its season at home against Lake Buena Vista under Marlin Roberts. The Dean of Osceola County head football coaches, Roberts begins his 14th season in charge of the Panthers. When Tohopekaliga opened a few years ago, it drained about half the student population away from Gateway. Add in several devastating injuries to key players and the Panthers have struggled in recent years to win games.
“Winning is always the goal, but as I grow older and circumstances surrounding this program have changed — so has my prospective. We have had a lot of turnover and we get a lot of kids who have never played football before that come out. My focus is now to develop them as players, keep them out of trouble and help them prepare for college,” Roberts said.