Eagles look to fly high as independent

Oak Hall High School seniors Brandon Moreno (75), Trey Carr (42), Jackson Armstrong (53), Brad Pita (8) and Billy Nodine (58) pose for a portrait during the high school media day at The Gainesville Sun on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Gainesville, Fla.

Elizabeth Hamilton/Correspondent
Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 at 12:32 p.m.

Changes are coming to the Oak Hall School Eagles for the 2013 season.

The Eagles finished 2012 with a 5-6 record, the season ending with a loss to Tallahassee Maclay in the North Florida Football Conference Championship Game. It was the second year in a row Oak Hall lost to Maclay in the conference championship game.

Losses to eventual 2A state champion Jacksonville University Christian and Jacksonville Eagle's View once again kept the Eagles out of the postseason.

In the offseason Oak Hall was moved up to Class 3A by the FHSAA and was placed in District 2, a district that includes two-time state champion Ocala Trinity Catholic and Maclay. Coach Scott McDaniel knew it would be tough with Oak Hall's student population and depth of football players to compete in this district, so he and Oak Hall athletic director Jeff Malloy made the decision to make the football team an independent.

Gainesville rival St. Francis soon followed suit in going the independent route.

Oak Hall won't be playing for a district title in 2013, but will once again play for a conference title in the South Division of the North Florida Football Conference. St. Francis, Monticello Aucilla Christian, Quincy Munroe and Orange Park St. Johns Country Day will be among the teams vying for a conference title.

McDaniel knows his team will be excited about another shot at a conference title.

"As a coach I want to see guys prepare to win and fight every week regardless of the circumstances," McDaniel said. "We want to play for our conference title. That has to be our number one goal at the end, that conference title."

McDaniel enters his seventh year as Oak Hall head coach and is looking to replace some talented players from 2012, most notably Danny Stirt, who will be a kicker at Duke this fall. Stirt did everything but sell programs and concessions for the Eagles a year ago, rushing for 615 yards and nine TDs and threw for 871 yards and 10 TDs as a quarterback. But he also averaged 37.4 yards a punt, was 22 of 24 on PATs and 5 of 8 on field goals, and added 59 tackles and one interception on defense.

Nathan Koons and Josh Noble are also gone from the Oak Hall offense of a year ago. McDaniel knows those guys will be tough to replace, but thinks he has some talent waiting in the wings.

"Jackson Armstrong is a four-year starter, he's a leader in practice and we expect him to be dominant in games," McDaniel said. "At receiver, Brad Pita averaged 20 yards a catch last year. He is only 140 pounds, but plays hard and fearlessly, and you want guys who stick their nose in the hole and play all out with toughness despite their size."

Senior Jake Kirschner will move full time to wide receiver. Senior Trey Carr will be the No. 1 running back after rushing for 379 yards as a reserve a year ago. Quarterback will be a position of inexperience, as freshmen Chase Trunnell and Michael Fortner will battle it out in preseason camp for the starting job.

"I don't know if we can talk about improving from last year," McDaniel said. "We have so much youth on our team, I think it's going to be improvement from day 1 to day 71. We have to find a new quarterback, linebackers, etc., so there are plenty of positions up for grabs."

Oak Hall's defensive line will be anchored by Armstrong at tackle. Seniors Pita, Kirschner and Carr will anchor the Eagles secondary with sophomore Matt Davis returning at end.

"A big question is finding someone at middle linebacker," McDaniel added. "We will play a 4-2-5, so most of our athletic guys will be in the secondary. Jackson Carey will be a safety we will count on as well as Trey Carr."

And while it may look like a rebuilding year coming in for Oak Hall, McDaniel doesn't see that as an excuse to just go out and lose.

"I would say we are in a rebuilding mode, yes," McDaniel said. "We are so young in so many spots with only five seniors, but that's no excuse for not winning football games."

And again McDaniel's not concerned that Oak Hall isn't playing for a district title and a spot in the FHSAA playoffs in 2013. If anything, he thinks Oak Hall will be more competitive and take more out of the teams they will play for the conference title.

"Our guys want to be the second football team in school history to put a banner up in the school gym (after the 1979 team)," McDaniel said. "As kids they want a chance to win. I don't know if that was the case when they played against the University Christians of the world. I think our conference gives our kids a feeling they can compete every Friday night."

2013 Oak Hall Eagles

2012 record: 5-6 (lost in North Florida Conference Championship game to Tallahassee Maclay

Coach: Scott McDaniel (7th season, 28-34 record at Oak Hall

Key games: Sept. 6 at Monticello Aucilla Christian, Oct. 4 at St. Francis, Oct. 18 vs. Orange Park St. Johns Country Day

Key players: Jackson Armstrong Sr. C/DL, Brad Pita, Sr. WR/DB, Jake Kirschner, Sr. WR/DB, Trey Carr, Sr. RB/DB/LB, Brandon Moreno, Sr. OT

2013 Schedule

(all games at 7 p.m. unless noted)

Aug. 29 Florida School for Deaf

Sept. 6 at Monticello Aucilla Christian

Sept. 13 Branford

Sept. 20 Niceville Rocky Bayou Christian .

Sept. 27 at Bell 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at St. Francis

Oct. 11 at Quincy Munroe 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 18 Orange Park St. Johns Country Day

Oct. 25 St. Augustine St. Joseph

Nov. 1 Idle

Nov. 8 at Orlando Faith Christian

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