Gainesville football preview

By Marty Pallman
Twitter – @mpallman

The Gainesville Hurricanes hope a coaching change can bring back a winning tradition to their football program in 2020.

The Hurricanes, who had advanced to the playoffs nine out of the 10 previous seasons coming into 2019, struggled to a 2-8 mark last year.

Patrick Miller was let go after two years as Gainesville head coach and replaced by former Gator football player Dock Pollard, who was head coach at Santa Fe (Alachua) for the last two seasons, leading the Raiders to the playoffs in 2018.

GHS could never get anything going offensively last season, scoring only 51 points in starting 0-6.

The Hurricanes did come close against Baker County (Glen St. Mary), losing 13-10 in overtime, and city rival Buchholz (Gainesville) 18-13, but were blown out by Vanguard (Ocala), Columbia (Lake City), North Marion (Citra), and Oakleaf (Orange Park) by an average margin of almost 28 points per game.

Gainesville went 2-2 down the stretch with wins over Middleburg and city rival Eastside (Gainesville) and losses to playoff teams Wakulla (Crawfordville) and Lee (Jacksonville).

The ‘Canes played five playoff teams on their 2019 schedule.

GHS lost two senior quarterbacks in Rod Williams and Jacob Hanson, who combined for only three touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Hurricanes will need to find a new signal-caller this fall.

“The quarterback position is wide open,” Pollard said. “That will be our main position battle come summer and fall camp.”

Sophomore Darian Smith-Williams is considered one of the favorites to start for the Hurricanes at quarterback.

Gainesville only returns three starters on offense, as they also lost starting running back KZ Hutchinson, a three-year starter who rushed for 582 yards and 6 TD’s last year as a senior, and also had 31 catches for 285 yards out of the backfield.

Junior running back Nayron Jenkins is the returning leading rusher and is expected to pick up the running game for the Hurricanes along with junior athlete D’yoni Hill. Sophomore John Cooper is a newcomer who will see carries as well.

The leading returning receiver is senior Elijah Lee. Another newcomer, sophomore Cameron Boykin, will be a target for the Hurricanes new starting quarterback in 2020.

Senior Rae’Neal Carter returns to anchor the Gainesville offensive line along with senior Julian Moore and they will be joined on the O-line by a newcomer in senior Michael Bullard.

Gainesville returns six defensive starters, although they do lose their top two tacklers from 2019 in Gentle Hunt and Michael Cromarty.

Senior linebacker Charles Seymore is the leading returning tackler for the Hurricanes’ defense, with 45 stops and 2 sacks last season. He will be joined by another senior linebacker Chadwick Ellington.

Hill, who had two interceptions and 11 passes defensed, leads the Gainesville secondary.

Not having spring practice due to the COVID-19 pandemic is tough for a coach like Pollard, who is in his first year with the Gainesville program. The coach has been busy checking in with his players during the spring and at least is not new to the North Central Florida area.

“We lost quite a bit of experience from last year,” Pollard said. “But we are gaining a wealth of young, athletically talented young men to mix with what is coming back.”

The schedule is once again daunting, with an opening game at Vanguard, and trips to Columbia, Wakulla, and Lee, along with home games against Baker County, North Marion and Centennial (Port St. Lucie).

The winner of Class 6A-District 2 will make the playoffs, along with four at-large teams from the region.

School: Gainesville High School
2019 record: 2-8
Coach & year: Dock Pollard (1st season)
Number of returning offensive/defensive starters: 3 Offense/ 6 Defense
Key losses: Gentle Hunt, Tramel Brown, Austen Register, Alex Berceli, Cameron Cohens, Alex Hood, MIchael Cromarty, KZ Hutchinson, Rod Williams, Jacob Hanson, Raymond Cobb, Caleb Washington, Josiah Williams, Deon Dexter, Emmanuel McCollum
Key returning players (Name, position, year): Nay’Ron Jenkins (RB, 2022), D’yoni Hill (Ath, 2022), Rae’Neal Carter (OL, 2021), Elijah Lee (WR, 2021), Charles Seymore (LB, 2021), Jerohn Gordon (DB, 2021), Cassaun Garrison (DB, 2021), Chadwick Ellington (LB, 2021), Davontis Clements (ATH, 2021), Julian Moore (OL, 2021), Dylan Theriault (OL, 2021), Connor Diven (OL, 2022), Daryus Boyd (Hybrid, 2022), Will Wistruck (TE, 2022), Dallas Figueroa (Hybrid, 2021), Brandon Bates (LB, 2021), Bavan Bates (DL, 2021), Davontis Clements (ATH/DB, 2021)
Key newcomers (Name, position, year): Cameron Boykin (WR, 2023), Darian Smith-Williams (QB, 2023), Jakarious Jones (OL/DL, 2022), John Cooper (RB, 2023), Brandon Bowden (LB, 2022), Kenneth Nelson (DB, 2023), Michael Bullard (OL, 2021), Darian Owens (DL, 2023), Stanley Cooks (DL, 2023), Ahman Covington (DB, 2023), Taylor McGriff (2023), Brennan Kade (WR, 2022), Rei Hines (DB, 2022)
Most important position battles heading into the fall: QB. The position is wide open.
Outlook/expectations: Lost quite a bit of experience, but we are gaining a wealth of young, athletically talented young men to mix with what is coming back. I think Gainesville football will have a lot of fun this year!

2020 Football Schedule
8/21 at Vanguard (Ocala)
8/28 vs. Baker County (Glen St. Mary)
9/3 vs. North Marion (Citra)
9/11 vs. Centennial (Port St. Lucie)
9/25 at Columbia (Lake City)*
10/2 at Buchholz (Gainesville)
10/9 vs. Middleburg*
10/16 at Wakulla (Crawfordville)
10/23 at Lee (Jacksonville)*
10/30 Eastside (Gainesville)

*6A-District 2 game