Seven questions as high school football practice opens


High school football’s offseason has come to an end in Palm Beach County.

Fall practice begins Monday for 36 area schools. Teams will have three weeks to prepare for preseason games, which will be played Aug. 18. The regular season kicks off the following week.

Here are seven things to look for:

1. Change of scenery for some area standouts: Numerous players switched teams during the offseason, with some big names among them. UM commit Gurvan Hall, the No. 1 player on The Post’s Class of 2018 Big Board, transferred from Palm Beach Lakes to Palm Beach Gardens in July. Those also moving include junior defensive back Akeem Dent (Pahokee to Palm Beach Central); senior wide receiver Oyeh Lurry-Davis (Dwyer to Atlantic); senior defensive back Kenih Lovely (Dwyer to Atlantic); senior defensive end Jason Mercier (Boynton Beach to Atlantic); senior defensive back De’Quan Walker (Dwyer to Palm Beach Gardens); senior athlete Teja Young (Royal Palm Beach to Palm Beach Lakes); junior lineman Renato Brown (Oxbridge Academy to Palm Beach Central); senior quarterback Ryan Rizk (Saint John Paul II Academy to American Heritage); and junior wide receiver John Dunmore (Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons to American Heritage).

2. Different quarterback, same game plan for Wellington: During the previous three seasons, Shannon Patrick, Blake Dever and Ben Schmickle combined to throw for 8,855 yards and 103 touchdowns. Expect more of the same this season with Connor Rogers under center. The 6-foot-4 senior, who played tight end and wide receiver for the Wolverines last year, will air it out just as much as his predecessors did in the Wolverines’ pass-heavy offense. “We throw 80 percent of the time,” coach Tom Abel said in May. Rogers will have plenty of targets to choose from, including junior athlete Mark-Antony Richards, junior running back Jadien Durant and senior running back Marvin Pierre.

3. Who has the edge in District 9-8A?: That’s tough to say in July, but this district is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing in the area this season. Wellington and Palm Beach Gardens have traded the district championship during the past three seasons, and each is expected to contend again this year. But they’ll face competition in Palm Beach Central, which added a handful of impact players during the offseason — among them five-star defensive back Dent and 310-pound lineman Brown — and Seminole Ridge, which has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Jupiter also expects to be improved this year. The Warriors, who went 0-9 last season, have a new coach in veteran Tim Tharp, who has had a lot of success during his time on the sidelines.

4. Can Olympic Heights surprise again? How about Palm Beach Lakes? The Rams made the playoffs last season after a lengthy drought, while the Lions won more games — six — than in their previous three seasons combined. Both hope to continue their momentum in 2017, though there will be little room for error now that there is only one automatic playoff berth in District 13-7A. Lakes graduated more than two dozen players, and lost defensive back Hall to Palm Beach Gardens earlier this month. But the Rams have plenty of young talent, and picked up a versatile athlete in Young from Royal Palm Beach. Heights gets 16 starters back from last year, among them senior tight end Shane Ellis, senior running back Reis Clark and senior defensive end Chris Dascher.

5. Who’s it going to be in District 10-8A? Park Vista, coming off a 5-5 season in 2015, surprised the county by reeling off 10 consecutive wins last season. The Cobras claimed the district crown, only to be upset by Palm Beach Gardens in the first round of the playoffs. Park Vista returns the same core of players, with quarterback and Holy Cross commit John Smith back under center (and playing safety), UAB commit Atorian Perry playing wide receiver and defensive back, and USF commit Jake Collins manning the secondary. But Atlantic, the district-title winner in 2015, is back with a vengeance. The Eagles have the deepest receiving corps in Palm Beach County and a defensive line — led by transfer Jason Mercier — that will dominate opposing lines. Lurking behind the last two district winners are Boca Raton and Lake Worth, both of whom have a shot to pull off upsets and claim a playoff spot.

6. Can transfers make the difference for American Heritage? Heritage had its worst season in years in 2016, going from a state title game berth in 2015 to a disappointing 2-7 last year. But the Stallions have reloaded. Quarterback Rizk transferred from Saint John Paul II Academy to lead the offense, and he has a new, talented target in Dunmore, a junior Florida Gators commit who arrives from Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons. Also new to the team are linebacker Stephenson Castor (Lake Worth), defensive end Jamarius Landers (Coconut Creek), athlete Grantis Poole (Cardinal Gibbons) and athlete Dallis Small (Cardinal Gibbons). The new blood in Delray Beach should give Heritage a good shot of making it back to where it was two years ago.

7. How will Benjamin and other small schools do in a return to FHSAA play? With the elimination of districts and the institution of a points system for playoff eligibility, several local teams who previously played in independent conferences are once again in official Florida High Schools Athletic Association classes. None of them are more intriguing than Benjamin, which rejoined Class 3A. The Buccaneers feature three of the top players in Palm Beach County: senior quarterback Jordan Travis (Louisville commit; No. 10 Big Board), senior offensive lineman Martin Weisz (Virginia commit; No. 15) and junior athlete Kaiir Elam (No. 2 on The Post’s Too Early Top 10). Benjamin plays a similar schedule to the one it did last year, as it is still a member of the Southeastern Football Conference. But the Bucs have a chance to run through that schedule this year, and then they would have a shot at a state title.



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