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Two PB County HS football teams who went deep in 2022 playoffs seek new QBs, while Cardinal Newman aims at Chaminade again

Last year’s 4M state semifinal still stings the Palm Beach Central football team.

The Broncos led visiting Apopka by 15 points in the second half before crumbling to a 27-24 defeat.

That hunger for revenge has carried over into training camp as Palm Beach Central still eyes its first trip to the state final. However, they will have to do it without Ahmad Haston, their stud quarterback and the Sun Sentinel’s 2022 Palm Beach County 4M-3M offensive player of the year. He graduated and is now playing at Massachusetts.

As of Monday, coach Kevin Thompson said there’s a three-man race among junior Matis Gibson, sophomore Caleb Butler and freshman Kingston Rust for the starting quarterback job. Whoever wins it will have to fill Haston’s big shoes after he threw for 2,306 yards and 31 touchdowns, plus another 525 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.

Thompson, a former defensive coordinator, said he’s looking for basic fundamentals from his starting quarterback.

“Right now, I really just want someone not to turn the ball over,” Thompson said.

The good news is, last year was Thompson’s first year as coach. Plus, Palm Beach Central is loaded with junior talent such as four-star (in the 247 composite) wide receiver and Chaminade-Madonna transfer Kamare Williams, four-star safety Tony Williams and four-star athlete Waden Charles.

Combine them with the right quarterback, and Thompson believes it could be what gets them over the hump.

“When you’re three points away from playing for a state championship, I guess the only goal is to play in a state championship, right?” Thompson said. “That’s the only thing you can actually sit back and say that would be the goal. Anything else wouldn’t be productive because we’ve already done that.”

Cardinal Newman: What’s next after an undefeated regular season?

Last fall was Cardinal Newman’s first undefeated regular season in four decades. It ended with a loss to eventual state champion Chaminade-Madonna in the regional final.

Now, Newman looks to springboard that into a state championship appearance.

They return quarterback Luke Warnock, a first-team all-county selection. He threw for 2,296 yards and 34 touchdowns last year and holds offers from Louisville, Maryland, Charlotte and UMass.

The Crusaders also boast a handful of talented players on the perimeter, including junior four-star wide receiver Naeshaun Montgomery, senior four-star athlete Ricky Knight III (Florida State commit), senior three-star cornerback Josh Philostin, senior three-star cornerback Kevin Levy (Rutgers commit) and junior three-star safety Max Redmon.

Reigning Sun Sentinel Palm Beach 2M-1M-1R coach of the year Jack Daniels said a key determinant for how far Cardinal Newman makes it this year could come down to the offensive and defensive lines.

“I don’t know how we’ll fare record-wise,” Daniels said, “but if we stay healthy on the lines of scrimmage, then I think we can compete with anybody.”

Atlantic: Could offseason chess and boxing classes be the secret ingredient?

Atlantic went from 5-7 to 8-4 last season, but the school has brought in a new coach in Jamelle Murray to coax further improvement from the Eagles.

He’s already implemented a handful of changes in the program, including a unique wrinkle off the field consisting of chess matches and boxing classes.

The boxing was something Murray picked up from former Atlantic coach T.J. Jackson. Atlantic stopped doing the boxing classes, but Murray saw the benefits and wanted to bring that back. Chess, on the other hand, was his own idea.

“There are other aspects of the game that you can see in chess because you have to be moves ahead,” Murray said. “It’s chess as well as boxing. Being calculated, planning for what’s happening next, being sharp, also discipline and having laser focus, it all ties into the game in one aspect.”

In addition, Murray assigned each player with an offensive and defensive position during spring and summer training. That way, the players could learn both sides of the ball in order to improve at their primary position.

“If I’m a defensive lineman and I learn offensive lineman techniques, steps and body language, I can prepare myself and know what to expect in that moment,” Murray said.

Whether it will translate to wins on the field remains unknown, but the new prospective could be the jolt that brings Atlantic back to a state-title contender.

Benjamin: Can a pair of top recruits lead to wins on the margins?

Of Benjamin’s five losses last year, four of them came by one score. Flip two of those around, and Benjamin is 7-3 instead of 5-5.

It all starts with a duo of elite prospects: Amaree Williams and Chauncey Bowens. Both of them are four-star recruits and are among the top-ranked in the state.

Williams, a junior defensive end, was a first-team all-county player after recording 40 tackles, 15 sacks, one forced fumble, two interceptions and two defensive touchdowns last season. He was also a first-team all-county track runner in the spring. Williams is currently uncommitted, but holds offers from schools such as Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Auburn, Miami and more.

Bowens, a senior running back, is committed to Georgia. He’s also a two-sport all-county athlete, earning a first-team honor in football last year and a second-team honor in track and field in the spring.

“He’s been pretty good pretty much the whole time he’s been in high school,” Benjamin coach Eric Kresser said of Bowens. “It’s hard to say there’s been a lot of progress because he’s been at an elite level for a while now. He looks like a college player, he looks like a pro guy and we are really excited to get the most out of him this year.”

A focus for Benjamin will be getting off to a faster start than last year. Benjamin was able to turn an 0-3 start into a 5-5 record, but this year’s schedule is expected to be difficult once again.

Garcia: What can be expected from a brand-new program?

The new Dr. Joaquín García High School is one of the more intriguing stories in the state. Everything is starting from scratch, including the athletic program.

Brandon Walker is leading the project as the football team’s inaugural head coach. The former Park Vista coach has a lot on his hands, from finding players to making a schedule and creating a fanbase, all while also trying to win games and lay a foundation for the future.

They began training camp at a middle school across the street because the high school fields weren’t ready yet. This year’s team has no seniors and only a handful of juniors.

“From an age and maturity standpoint, we’re probably behind most teams in Palm Beach County,” Walker said.

Garcia will be competing as an independent. Walker said the most important task this season is establishing a positive trajectory of the program. Of course, wins would help, but with the realistic challenges of starting from nothing, they may not be frequent.

“If we were a regular football team, we’d be days ahead of where we’re at right now as far as install and things like that,” Walker said. “We’re methodically taking things very slow to make sure that our foundation is really strong. We’re not gonna be a team that installs 900,000 concepts because we’re not ready for that. We’re gonna work on being really good on the things that we’re gonna put in and really build for the future.”

Pahokee: How do they respond after losing their star quarterback?

Pahokee lost by one point in the 1R regional final to eventual state champion Hawthorne last year. Now, they look to overcome the losses of two star players at quarterback and defensive end.

Both quarterback Austin Simmons and defensive end DeeJay Holmes departed and now are at Ole Miss after record-breaking seasons.

Simmons set a school record with 3,242 passing yards last season while also adding 24 passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. Holmes was the back-to-back Sun Sentinel Palm Beach 2M-1M-1R football defensive player of the year and had a monstrous 32.5 sacks last year.

However, Pahokee has standout wide receivers in four-star Hardley Gilmore and three-star Demarion Jenkins, who could make another leap in their senior seasons.

First-year coach Matthew Sparrowhawk said the senior class will be counted on during the transition.

“We don’t have a whole lot of seniors, but the seniors that we have are explosive, talented kids,” Sparrowhawk said. “We’re gonna lean heavy on those guys where we are young in a lot of spots.”

Palm Beach Gardens: Can momentum be carried into 2023?

Palm Beach Gardens notched its most wins (9) since 2013, going all the way to the 4M regional final. Double-digit wins could be next in the quest for a state title.

Palm Beach Gardens is led by three-star wide receiver and FAU commit Michael Wright III. There is also a new quarterback in Miche Estime from Forest Hill.

Ned Boldin
John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel
Palm Beach Central wide receiver Nedrick Boldin is brought down by Palm Beach Gardens defenders during the first half on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022 in Wellington.
Da'marion Alberic
John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel
Atlantic senior running back Da’Marion Alberic, a first-team All-County pick in 2022, is expected to be a key cog for the Eagles offense. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)


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