2017 Football Preview: New coach, new attitude at Creekside

The bottom of a creek bed is muddy and not a pleasant place. For most species, it’s impossible to descend any deeper.

 

For the Creekside football program, the nadir of the 2016 season was a whitewashing by Bartram Trail on its home field. The Knights lost four more games to finish winless for a second straight season. Five weeks later, Sean McIntyre was named the head coach and the attitude around the program has changed dramatically.

As the 2017 season begins, the Knights are optimistic they have extracted themselves from the mire. They ended spring practice with a 37-24 win over Stanton College Prep.

“You saw a team that hadn’t won a game since October 2014 and they come in and they do very well in the spring game,” said Creekside left tackle Crosby Middleton. “The combination of all the great coaches helped accelerate the program.”

With committed coaches on the sidelines and adjusted attitudes inside the lines, the Knights believe they can snap their losing streak, which is 22 games and one setback away from the county record.

“The adults have always believed in us. But, our students, after the first year going 0-10 and last year (0-9), we’re not giving them any reasons to believe,” said Ben O’Brien, a 6-foot-5 tight end who is also Creekside’s senior class president. “This year, we’re definitely going to do that. We really put in the work. I’m really looking forward to this year with all these new coaches. Everyone is going to rally together and enjoy high school and help people win.”

Creekside lost all nine games last year by double figures. What’s next for the Knights is who’s first, as in who will be the first team McIntyre and the Knights defeat.

Creekside hosts Winter Springs to kick off the season. Winter Springs won two games in 2016 and lost its last four games by an average of 36.7 points. That will be followed by two road games against First Coast teams that also struggled last year. Ridgeview enters the season having lost 19 in a row. Meanwhile, Paxon lost seven of its last eight in 2016.

“When Coach Mac came to campus, he was really hype about everything,” said J.T. Wood, a senior wide receiver who committed to Liberty in July. “He wanted to get as many kids as he can. He really got the job done. With the spring game, it sealed it. We had a bunch of kids come out in the summer and ask if they can join the team. They said they missed spring because they didn’t think it would be all that. They saw us play on Friday and we woke up and they said ‘Oh, I want to be a part of something like that. It’s a lot of fun.’”

Wood will lead the wide receiver group; seniors Colton Hell, Kaleb Cody and O’Brien will also be targets for quarterbacks Tai Lavatai and Jake Forcier.

Harry Jacobs, a Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Famer, who won more than a dozen state track and field championships at Tallahassee FAMU High and Monticello Jefferson County used to say he was successful because he recruited kids from his hallways to play for him.

McIntyre, the son of a coach, has certainly embraced that mantra. During the spring semester his planning period coincided when most students were eating lunch. He took that opportunity to encourage students to give football a try.

This year’s team will feature boys who are also on Creekside’s baseball, track, soccer, wrestling and lacrosse teams.

“Most of the time it was my football guys, who I didn’t really know at the time, I was asking them to do things they had not done before and try to build relationships with them,” McIntyre said. “Some of these other athletes on campus saw how excited our guys were about the new season and the chances that were occurring. Some of them wanted to be a part of that. It allowed other guys who had not played before an opportunity because of the excitement.”

Kenny Collins is in line to be the starting running back. The senior ran track for the Knights, but came out for the football team after track season ended. Terrance Akodu is another who ran track, committed to football and is in line to see playing time this fall.

The biggest indicator that the culture has changed at Creekside may have been on a muggy morning in the middle of summer when more than 80 Knights were on the track working on their conditioning ahead of this season.

Even when Creekside was a playoff team, the Knights didn’t have numbers like they had in their off-season conditioning program.

“A lot of attention shifted away from Creekside football with the last two seasons,” Middleton admitted. “Coach Mac had a big job coming in and taking the head coaching job. As of now, he has handled it well and it’s shown, especially with how we performed in the spring game and how much better we got in the summer.”

There are 30 seniors on this year’s team. They are committed to ensure their final year of varsity football does not end the way it did for their immediate predecessors.

“We’re, obviously, not the biggest. We’re, obviously, not the strongest, so we have to execute everything,” said senior strong safety Dustin Owens. “Everything has to be perfect, perfect, perfect. … We have to get as strong as we can and we have to execute everything.”

2017 Schedule

Aug. 25 Winter Springs

Sept. 1 at Ridgeview

Sept. 8 at Paxon

Sept. 15 Episcopal

Sept. 22 at Nease

Sept. 29 at Bartram Trail*

Oct. 13 at Buchholz*

Oct. 20 Fleming Island*

Oct. 27 Oakleaf*

Nov. 3 Ponte Vedra

2016 Results | Record:

Aug. 26 vs. Orange Park L 34-14

Sept. 9 at St. Augustine L 31-7

Sept. 16 vs. Providence L 51-28

Sept. 23 at Mandarin L 54-3

Sept. 30 vs. Bartram Trail L 63-7*

Oct. 14 at Fleming Island L 27-14*

Oct. 21 at Oakleaf L 42-7*

Oct. 28 vs. Buchholz L 49-0*

Nov. 4 at Ponte Vedra L 48-14

Creekside Knights

Strength: The Knights have 30 seniors including quarterback Jake Forcier, receiver J.T. Wood, defensive back Vance Bennett, linebacker Brandon Dickman and left tackle Crosby Middleton. The size of the class combined with its previous experience and current buy-in are what encourages first-year head coach Sean McIntyre.

Area to improve: Physicality at the line of scrimmage. In recent years, teams have been able to dictate the point of attack on both sides of the ball. Defensively, there are eight players vying for four starting line spots in the Knights’ 4-3 defense. While Crosby Middleton, Tyler Matulevich, Luke Sweigart and Saul Storey are penciled in for four of the five starting spots on the offensive line.

Key Returnees: Wood is the leading receiver from a team that was forced to throw frequently last year. Dickman is a linebacker who is an All-State wrestler and vocal about his distaste for losing.

Promising newcomers: Kenny Collins and Jake Huynh are two upperclassmen who have never played football for Creekside before, but their arrival is indicative of the fresh attitude around the program. Collins is a senior running back, who ran track for the Knights before deciding to come out for the football team. Huynh played soccer for the Knights and is slated to be the team’s placekicker.

District outlook: Because Creekside’s non-district schedule has more than one team that may struggle this fall, the Knights’ best path to the playoffs may be through the District 3-7A schedule. Considering the Knights lost three of their four district games by five touchdowns last year, a more realistic goal will be to be more competitive against district heavyweights Gainesville Buchholz, Bartram Trail and Oakleaf.

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