Williston welcomes move back to district play


Williston Red Devils Dywon Dunn (79), Austin Suggs (60), Keith Neal (5), Stephen Cochlin (15) and Tay Hammonds (1) pose for a portrait during the high school media day at The Gainesville Sun on Tuesday, July 23, 2013, in Gainesville, Fla.

Elizabeth Hamilton/Correspondent
Published: Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 11:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 12:00 p.m.

Williston Red Devils

Facts

2013 schedule

(All games at 7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 30 P.K. Yonge
Sept. 6 Taylor County
Sept. 13 at Hawthorne
Sept. 20 Dixie County*
Sept. 27 at Wildwood
Oct. 4 at Newberry*
Oct. 11 Eagle's View
Oct. 18 Chiefland*
Oct. 25 Lecanto
Nov. 1 at Union County*
Nov. 8 Idle
*District 7-1A games

2012 record: 2-8

Coach: Jamie Baker (10th season, record 50-49)

Key games: Sept. 20 vs. Dixie County; Oct. 4 at Newberry; Nov. 1 at Union County

Players to watch: Keith Neal, Sr. RB/LB. Steven Cochlin, Sr. QB, Dywon Dunn, Sr. DL, Austin Suggs, Sr. OL, Tay Hammonds, Sr. WR/DB

There's an extra spring in the step of coach Jamie Baker and his Williston Red Devils heading into the 2013 season.

A gleam in their eye and definitely plenty of motivation for Williston this football season.

That's because for the first time since 2010, Williston is back in a district and eligible for the state football playoffs.

The Red Devils played in their last playoff game in 2010, losing to West Nassau in the then-Class 2B first round. After being put in a district again the next year with perennial state power and two-time state champion Ocala Trinity Catholic in Class 3A, Baker chose instead to take his team the independent route.

This offseason Williston and Baker got what they had been asking for from the FHSAA the past two years. That would be a place in the rural Class 1A.

"It means everything," Baker said. "It's easier to press on knowing you have that hope and it's better for the community, the team and the school to know that as well."

Despite this, the Red Devils are in one of the toughest districts in the state in 1A-7, joining Union County, Newberry, Chiefland and Dixie County. Williston played and lost to all four of those teams on the way to a 2-8 record in 2012. The closest loss was 27-21 to Dixie County, the biggest blowout a 26-0 setback to Newberry. Baker knows it's going to be a grind week in and week out to get through the district and into the playoffs.

"I don't think the competitive level is going to go anywhere," Baker said. "I think the strengths may shift to different places. Being these schools are small, the talent is going to ebb and flow. I think the district will still be strong and the strengths will be there but in different places."

Senior quarterback Stephen Cochlin has the job to himself coming into 2013 after splitting last season with the graduated David Heinkel. Cochlin completed more than 53 percent of his passes for 664 yards and three TDs for Williston in 2012. Cochlin also had 30 tackles on defense last season, but isn't expected to play on that side of the ball this year because of added depth. Senior Tay Hammonds will play both receiver and defensive back. Hammonds will be expected to pick up Williston's receiving corps after the graduation of Damien Strange.

Strange, now at Jacksonville University, led the Red Devils with 829 yards and 10 TDs in 2012. Junior Tad Donald is the leading returning rusher and senior Austin Suggs will be Williston's leader up front on the offensive line.

"I think we have a chance to be more successful up front, and we don't have a lot of depth, but I'm very excited about the guys up front and the linebackers," Baker said. "We may have had some attrition this summer, but at the end of the spring we had 33 or 34 players. Last year we had about 21, and about three or four of those were hurt and couldn't suit up."

Senior linebacker Keith Neal paces the Red Devils defense, after leading Williston with 88 tackles and four passes defensed a year ago. Senior defensive lineman Dywon Dunn led the Red Devils with three sacks and five tackles for loss and also added 40 tackles in 2012. Big things are expected of Hammonds in the Williston secondary.

While there will be road trips to Union County and Newberry in district play, Williston has seven games at home in 2013, including the first four. And again the Red Devils are happy to have a shot at the state playoffs after two seasons as an independent. Baker knows no matter what, this is a win-win situation for all of the Red Devils' sports programs.

"Our first goal is a district championship," Baker said. "We're finally in a position competitively speaking where we can do that. It's huge in all sports. Our baseball and basketball teams missed out on state titles the last few years because they were in a higher class. We're just happy to have a chance after missing out on the rural class the past two years."

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