HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW: P.K. YONGE
On the fast track
Published: Monday, September 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 1, 2003 at 12:32 a.m.
There is an old motorist safety slogan that reads: "Speed Kills." The point of the warning is to reminds drivers that the faster a car travels, the more intense the impending collision.
Well, in football, the slogan "Speed Kills" is equally as appropriate, with a far less negative connotation.
Much like the high-speed traffic on the highways, defensive players moving at high speeds are more likely to create spectacular collisions. At the same time, offensive players with speed can shift out of danger more readily and into the open field.
Speed is a great asset on the football field, and that's good news for P.K. Yonge, because speed is something they have in abundance.
"If you somehow don't execute perfectly, or your defense doesn't execute for whatever reason at the line of scrimmage, the thing that saves you is team speed," P.K. Yonge coach John Clifford said. "We've always been a team that has been considered to be pretty fast. One of the reasons may be that we take really good angles.
"That's the thing - everybody talks about how speed wins games. People are going to have a hard time running around us. You can't simulate speed in practice unless you have it as well on your scout team."
P.K. Yonge's speed is bolstered by what is arguably the fastest small school 4x100-meter relay team in the state, all of whose members are also on the football team.
The reason that it has to be argued whether they are the fastest is because they just can't seem to finish the race at the state meet. Two years ago, they dropped the baton. Last season, the current members of that 4x100 team - Derek Cason, Dynell Leonard, D.J. Wilson and Steven Long - were disqualified without ever getting out of the starting block for having a stripe that wasn't supposed to be on their uniform.
"We asked about it before the race," Long said. "They said that it was OK, but then I look up at the start of the race and Cason isn't on the track."
Apparently, Long, the team captain, did not have a very good reaction to the news. Though nothing was said to him at the time, he later got a letter from FHSAA officials informing him that he would have to sit out some football games this year as a result of what he said at the track meet in front of a track official.
Whatever the original suspension was, it has been reduced to four games, including the Kickoff Classic, on appeal. That means that the wide receiver/cornerback/running back will be back for the big-time matchup with The Bolles School out of Jacksonville on Sept. 26.
"I didn't actually find out about the suspension until the summer," Long said. "We had already played the spring game. I was thinking, 'Why couldn't they have sent this to me before so I could sit the spring season out?' "
The other three track stars will be in pads to open the season. Cason is arguably the top returning player among the four. He ran for 797 yards and 10 touchdowns last season sometimes alongside, sometimes in place of fellow running back Eric Rutledge.
Wilson also was a reserve running back last year, but the 2003 season marks the first season on the football field for Leonard, a transfer from Eastside who may get a chance to flash his speed on kick returns.
"Track's my main sport, and I transferred from Eastside knowing I was going to win the state title," Leonard said. "Football is tough, because my (track) teammates are all talking about how I have no hands and all that. I have to go out there and prove it to them."
Desire to prove something is always a good motivating factor. It's no greater than the desire to win, though, which Cason has in spades after the track fiasco.
"I usually try to ignore stuff that happens on the track," Cason said. "This is the second year in a row it's happened. I'm putting all my energy into football, and hopefully, we'll win."
Cason may be ignoring track, but opponents are going to find it hard to ignore the track stars. It won't take long for those opponents to find out just how dangerous speed can be.
Make no mistake about it, the Blue Wave is very young. At the same time, with 6-foot, 227-pound Eric Rutledge in the backfield, it would be unwise to underestimate how exciting this team can be. Rutledge rushed for 1,285 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior.
As a senior, he is the uncontested team leader, which could be very important for this young offense. Rutledge basically provides Clifford with another coach on the field, which could be a big deal for sophomore starting quarterback Derrick Robinson.
Robinson will be the first non-senior to start at quarterback since Jeff Creveling's junior season. Speedsters Derek Cason at running back and Steven Long at receiver should provide him with some added firepower.
In fact, until Long returns from his suspension, the only returning starters are all on the line - Lucas Seidman, Vernon Shelton and Devin Duncan. Noah Daigen and Newberry transfer Javell Woods will be asked to learn quickly at linebacker, and Rutledge will join them there.
Eric Ouko will anchor the defensive backfield from his safety position until Long returns. D.J. Wilson, Cason and Dynell Leonard will also add speed to the secondary.
It's hard to imagine P.K. Yonge having any trouble making the playoffs under that set up, but it isn't exactly a district that prepares a team for a deep playoff run.
As a result, those are the only two Class A schools on the schedule. Out of district, the Blue Wave plays traditional rivals Williston and Newberry as well as marquee games with Jacksonville Bolles and Bradford.
Things to watch
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