Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lack of Returning Starters Doesn't Deter Panthers' Playoff Hopes

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lack of Returning Starters Doesn't Deter Panthers' Playoff Hopes

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN KOSOY

Nease High School's football team was decimated last season by the loss of 30 graduating seniors and the transfer of about 100 others to the new Ponte Vedra High School.

Under first-year head coach Danny Cowgill, the team still managed to finish 7-4 overall and was runner-up to Ridgeview in District 5-4A. The Panthers also advanced to the regional semifinals, where they fell to Ridgeview 24-12.

This season, Nease is in a new classification as a member of District 3-3A. The five-team district is sure to provide plenty of fireworks and local rivalries. The district includes Nease, Bartram Trail, Ponte Vedra, Creekside and a much-improved Clay team that hired Nease secondary coach Matt Toblin as head coach.

Nease will also face host Fletcher in a season-opening battle of the Beaches on Sept. 4 and will renew its annual rivalry with St. Augustine at home on Oct. 16.

"We have a very difficult schedule," Cowgill said. "But we still expect to go to the playoffs."

Although the Panthers lost some prospects to graduation and have fewer than five starters returning, their replacements are products of the Nease football program and Cowgill expects them to hit the ground running.

"We always seem to lose a lot of senior starters every year," Cowgill said. "But for the guys that have been in the program, their turn is here. It's time to turn the team over to them and let them carry the torch."

The Panther offense will be led by strong-armed senior quarterback Tyler Weir, who led the area in passing last season. Weir's top targets will be senior wide receivers Patrick Thomas and Brandon Boyd, a transfer from Arlington Country Day. Junior Garrett Dieas and senior Tyler Barlow will be slot receivers, while junior tight end James Abbatinozzi has good hands and is also expected to see passes come his way. Sophomore JoJo Brooks has emerged as one of the team's top play-makers and, in addition to starting at safety on defense, will contribute on offense. …

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