By Mike Ridaught
Off the field, there is uncertainty surrounding Hawthorne High School after the school received its third consecutive “D” grade from the state this past summer.
In 2013 and 2014, the school received an “F.”
There’s been discussion about the state closing down the school unless they can raise their grade to a “C” in 2017-18.
But on the field, you might give the Hornets an “A.”
Well, at least on offense.
It’s a team strength because they are loaded with athletes on the offensive side of the ball.
Last year, Hawthorne averaged 21 points per game and finished 6-3, but missed the playoffs after finishing just 1-3 in 1A-District 6. They were two dropped TD passes away, in a 27-26 loss to Union County, from winning seven games.
Based on some key returnees this season, and some new faces, including coaches, the Hornets are a legitimate contender to make their first postseason appearance since 2011.
It all starts on the offensive side of the ball with the return of 2-sport star Devin Lawrence.
“I’m looking for a better year,” said Lawrence, who led the Hornets in rushing last year with 821 yards in just eight games. “Even though we are a small school, I feel like we have some of the best athletes in the area.”
Head coach Cornelius Ingram, a former Gator and 2-sport Hawthorne alum, agrees.
“This is the most athletes we’ve ever had,” said Ingram, who enters his third season with the Hornets. “We have guys who can take a bubble screen and go 80 yards. At running back, he’s (Lawrence) special. I can’t even imagine what he’ll be able to do this upcoming season.”
They have a new quarterback in Kahleil Jackson, the son of former Gator wide receiver Willie Jackson.
The younger Jackson, who has been playing football since he was five, is excited and optimistic about this year’s offense.
“We can make a run for state, especially in this division (Class 1A),” he said. “We just added some key guys at the skill positions, plus we’ve added some coaches.”
His dad Willie is new to the coaching staff this year, along with Hawthorne grad & Ivy League football player Dustin Adkins, who will be the new defensive coordinator.
Willie Jackson will be the team’s offensive coordinator with his son Kahleil running the offense.
“He can throw it,” said Ingram. “We’re excited with all the athletes that we have out there that he can get the ball to in space and make some plays.”
Senior Justin Wright, who is the fastest player on the team, also has good size which will help the Hornets spread the field along with wide receiver & athlete Ethan Kelly.
“We’ve got a pretty good team,” said Wright, a recent FAMU offer who is also garnering interest from FIU and FAU. “We have a QB that’s throwing the ball really well and we’re deep this year. “We have excellent coaches everywhere.”
Ingram said the addition of Adkins is helping by getting the players to move around on defense.
“He’s upbeat at practice,” said Ingram. “He talks more trash than me. He’s put guys in their true positions where they are able to be successful. In years past we weren’t able to do that because of the lack of numbers but he understands we have a little bit more depth. He’s a smart cat.”
With the FHSAA’s new playoff format, the top four teams from the 8-team Class 1A-Region 4 will advance (Bronson, Crescent City, Fort Meade, Frostproof, Hawthorne, Pahokee, Wildwood & Williston).
With Willie Jackson drawing up the plays, Dustin Adkins running the show on defense, and Cornelius Ingram steering the ship, expect the Hornets to reach uncharted territories since 2011.
Last year they took a step by posting six wins, their most victories in a season since 2010.
It all adds up to a postseason berth and a chance to get to double-digit wins for a special season in Alachua County.
2017 Hawthorne football schedule
Aug. 25 – vs. Interlachen
Sept. 1 – vs. Holy Trinity Episcopal (Melbourne)
Sept. 8 – at P.K. Yonge
Sept. 15 – at Bell
Sept. 22 – Off
Sept. 29 – vs. Keystone Heights
Oct. 6 – at Union County
Oct. 13 – at Chiefland
Oct. 20 – vs. Frostproof
Oct. 27 – vs. Hilliard
Nov. 3 – at Bronson