WATCH PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Merritt Island Looks to Best District Rivals Rockedge, Palm Bay

By  //  August 5, 2018

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Mustangs are setting their sights on a return to winning the Class 5A District 14 title

ABOVE VIDEO:  The 2018 Merritt Island Mustangs football team is led by a familiar face at the O-Dome this year, 1987 MI graduate and former Miami Hurricanes great Hurlie Brown. The Mustangs are setting their sights on a return to winning the Class 5A District 14 title after a two-year drought – but will have to beat reigning district champ Rockledge and rival Palm Bay.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The 2018 Brevard County high school football regiment officially begins at 3:30 p.m. on Monday as every team on the Space Coast will gather to watch safety videos, discuss new rule changes and then take the field for non-contact drills and practice.

Contact practices can begin the week of August 5,  as teams prepare for the Kick-Off Classic Games which will be played the weekend of August 17 this year.

The big story on the Space Coast this offseason has been the number of new head coaches that will walk Brevard County sidelines in 2018.

Starting with the Bayside Bears and former head coach Mike Nahl’s decision to step aside last November, right up until the middle of June when Titusville’s Wayne Lawrence also stepped down, the coaching carousel has been by far the top story over the spring and summer.

There were eight vacancies filled since the end of last season, and depending on where you are in the county, the two biggest vacancies filled during the offseason were the ones left by two of the winningest head coaches in the state – John Wilkinson of the Cocoa Tigers and Kevin Mays of the Viera Hawks.

Viera stayed in-house and promoted the team’s defensive coordinator and former Bayside Bear head coach, Derek Smith, left, while Cocoa hired former UCF Knight quarterback Ryan Schneider.

Wilkinson and Mays combined to win 99 games and appear in three state title games since 2013, with the Tigers capturing the 2016 Class 4A crown.

Filling these headsets on Friday nights has been entrusted to two familiar names. One familiar to the local scene and one familiar to the entire state.

The Tigers hired former UCF Knight quarterback Ryan Schneider and Viera stayed in-house and promoted the team’s defensive coordinator and former Bayside Bear head coach, Derek Smith.

Schneider spent last season as the offensive coordinator for the Melbourne Central Catholic Hustlers and prior to that, he was winning state championships in that same role at St. Thomas Aquinas and at University School.

The Tigers are loaded again in 2018 and while the end results inside the newly renamed Dick Blake Stadium in Cocoa isn’t expected to change much, how Schneider and his team achieve the result could be.

With Schneider at the helm, the Tigers are expected to throw the football more, something a few Tiger fans would have welcomed during last seasons Class 4A State Championship game loss to Raines.

ABOVE VIDEO: Space Coast Daily’s Jordan Rocco spoke with new Cocoa Tiger head football coach Ryan Schneider about his playing days at UCF, his coaching resume, taking over for John Wilkinson and the expectations and goals for the 2018 Tigers.

Schneider played for the Knights from 2000 until 2003 where he is still second in program history behind Daunte Culpepper with 10,976 passing yards.

Last season with Schneider calling the plays for MCC, the Hustlers averaged 34 points per game and accumulated 3,108 yards of total offense. With Schneider in charge of the offense at St. Thomas, the Raiders averaged 356 yards per game, 38 points per contest and compiled a two-year record of 26-3.

The Tigers have one of the top players in the county in Mr. Everything, Willie Gaines, but leave no doubt that the football will see the air with more frequency than it ever has during the past 13 seasons in Cocoa.

Exactly the opposite is likely to happen in Viera where the Hawks have been the county’s top passing team for the past five seasons under former head coach Kevin Mays. The Hawks have averaged 2,800 passing yards per season, representing 64 percent of their offense over the past three seasons.

The Bayside Bears turned to one of their own to help bring back the growl. Corey Broomfield, who graduated in 2008 and then went on to play at Mississippi State, will try to restore faith and fun in a program that has just one win since it posted a 7-4 record in 2014. (Mississippi State image)

Viera has averaged a solid 1,600 yards on the ground during that same stretch (36 percent of the offense) but when you look at Derek Smith’s coaching DNA, make no mistake the “D’ stands for defense in that acronym and that means running the football more on offense, especially when former UF standout Mike Degory will run the offense.

Smith said during the 2018 Friday Night Locker Room Coaches Show on Space Coast Daily TV that “the offense will become more balanced, and be closer to a 50-50 run-pass ratio.”

As for elsewhere in the county this offseason, new head coaches will also be taking the field at Eau Gallie, Merritt Island Christian, Space Coast Jr./Sr. High, Titusville, Bayside and Merritt Island.

At Bayside, where the offseason exodus of coaches began, the Bears turned to one of their own to help bring back the growl. Corey Broomfield, who graduated in 2008, and then went onto play at Mississippi State, will try to restore faith and fun in a program that has just one win since it posted a 7-4 record in 2014.

Another local name familiar to Brevard residents is taking over for Jake Ownes at Space Coast. Matt Diesel comes down a few miles from Titusville where he’s been the defensive coordinator the past five seasons.  A graduate of Titusville, Diesel is the son of former Terrier head coach, Space Coast Sports Hall of Famer and Titusville county councilman, Dan Diesel.

NEW SPACE COAST HEAD MAN: Matt Diesel, left, moved south a few miles from Titusville High, where he’s been the defensive coordinator the past five seasons.  A graduate of Titusville, Diesel is the son of former Terrier head coach, athletic director, current assistant principal and Titusville county councilman, Dan Diesel. (Matt Diesel image)

At Merritt Island Christian, Athletic Director Greg Gage will be the head coach for the Cougars this season. Gage takes over for Jamie Bopp, who took a job in Savannah, Georgia. Bopp spent 14 years at Merritt Island Christian and was the school’s principal and head football coach last season.

For all of the talk that has surrounded Cocoa and Viera and their new head coaches, Merritt Island could be the surprise deep playoff team in 2018.

After winning the district title in five of his past six seasons, Mustangs head coach Jeff Mclean decided to step away from his head coaching duties after last season. The move by Mclean led to local favorite and former Mustang player Hurlie Brown being hired as Merritt Island’s head coach.

Brown, a 1987 graduate of Merritt Island and former University of Miami player, coached defensive backs and special teams for the Mustangs the last two seasons.

Christopher Sands was hired by AD Todd Oas at Eau Gallie High School to fill the coaching vacancy left when Tim Powers resigned last November. Sands joins the Commodores from Central High School in Brooksville, Florida, which is located north of Tampa in Hernando County.

Former Mustang and Miami Hurricane Hurlie Brown was hired as Merritt Island’s head coach. Brown, a 1987 graduate of Merritt Island and former University of Miami player, coached defensive backs and special teams for the Mustangs the last two seasons.

The final vacancy was filled in early July when Titusville hired Andrew Capuano to replace Wayne Lawrence. He takes over a program that finished just 1-9 last season and has seen several players leave to play elsewhere in the county this upcoming season.

Capuano joined the Terriers several months ago after leaving a coaching job in Mississippi to be the defensive coordinator and strength and conditioning coach.  Aside from several high school coaching jobs, Capuano is a former college football lineman who has also coached in the indoor league.

Successful Follow-Up Season?

While there are eight new head coaches, several returning sideline walkers are looking to equal or better records from last season that earned them playoff or postseason appearances.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t begin with the team and the man that’s been the model of consistency in Brevard County heading into the 2018 season, head coach Dan Burke and the Palm Bay Pirates.

Last season, the Pirates made the playoffs for the 22nd time in the past 23 years under Burke. They finished 8-3 despite being forced to play without a quarter of their roster for a prolonged stretch of the season.

Nothing will change on South Babcock Street in 2018. Palm Bay will play defense, they will run the ball and they won’t beat themselves, and as a result, you can probably expect a 23rd trip to the playoffs when November rolls around.

Despite losing QB-RB Jashaun Corbin to graduation and Texas A&M, head coach Wayne Younger and the Rockledge Raiders will have some great athletes, and followed up their first playoff appearance since 2012 with one of their best offseasons during the spring and summer.

The Raiders’ schedule is once again not for the faint of heart. It was a tough early schedule last year that allowed Rockledge to upset their rivals, the Cocoa Tigers, for the first time since 2005 ending Cocoa’s winning streak of beating Brevard County teams at 42.

Satellite’s Ted Kimmey, left, and Rockledge’s Wayne Younger look to build on winning seasons.

Power 5 colleges are once again regularly visiting Rockledge, and they are also stopping by Satellite High, where second-year head coach Ted Kimmey has players and the beach-side community believing big things are on the horizon.

The Scorpions’ mantra in 2017 was to be and play uncommon. This led to an unexpected 8-2 finish and the team’s first home postseason win since the Reagan administration.

Satellite graduated one of the best athletes in the county in QB Noah Mumme but to know the 2017 Space Coast Daily Breakfast of Champions Coach of the Year is to know that he’ll find a way to continue the Scorpions #Uncommon winning ways.

MCC will also be tough again under third-year head coach Stacey Sizemore. The Hustlers’ backfield could be the best in the county to start the season, and by the end of the year, may be the best in the state of Florida.

How do you replace a left-handed gunslinging quarterback like Joaquin Collazo? You welcome arguably the best sophomore RB on the Space Coast in Keyshawn Spencer, who transferred from Holy Trinity, and pair him with perhaps the best junior RB in LaAnthony Valentine.

Valentine and Spencer are all-purpose backs that can run, catch and block, and have received offers from everywhere that matters in college football.

Spencer, Valentine and the rest of the 2018 MCC Hustlers will be tested right out of the gate as Sizemore has invited powerhouse IMG Academy to play in Melbourne on August 24.

ABOVE VIDEO: How do you replace a left-handed gunslinging quarterback like Joaquin Collazo? You welcome arguably the best sophomore RB on the Space Coast in Keyshawn Spencer, who transferred from Holy Trinity and pair him with perhaps the best junior RB in LaAnthony Valentine.

OFFSEASON TRANSFER ROSTER : Speaking of players transferring, the Florida high school football offseason is filled with players transferring to other schools for one reason or another. This past offseason did not disappoint and below is a list of the player transfers that have occurred during the past six months courtesy of 321Recruits.com.

  • Transfer Update: 2020 WR/DB Ricardo Bryan transfers from Merritt Island to Space Coast.
  • Transfer Update 2019 OLB Khaleim Smith transfers from Rockledge to Space Coast.
  • Transfer Update: 2021 LB/DE Willie Taylor transfers from Titusville to Space Coast.
  • Transfer Update: 2020 QB Christopher Squires transfers from Titusville to Space Coast.
  • Transfer Update 2020 RB Deandre Jackson transfers from Titusville to Space Coast.
  • Transfer Update 2020 WR Micheal Squires transfers from Titusville to Space Coast.
  • Transfer Update: 2020 John Webster transfers from Cocoa to Merritt Island.
  • Transfer Update: 2019 ATH Isaiah Jones transfers from Bangor PA to Cocoa High.
  • Transfer Update: 2019 ATH LB/FB Noah Ferguson transfers from Titusville to Astronaut.
  • Transfer Update: 2019 ATH Trey Highsmith transfers from Titusville to Astronaut.
  • Transfer Update: 2019 DE Mansa Walston transfers from Cocoa to Palm Bay.
  • Transfer Update: 2021 WR/FS Mekhi Love transfers from Melbourne High to MCC.
  • Transfer Update: 2020 ATH Dominic Howard transfers from Timber Creek to Space Coast.
  • Transfer Update: 2019 QB Ryan Thomas transfers from Mantanzas to Cocoa High.
  • Transfer Update 2019 RB/CB Davontae Shingles transfers from OCP to Space Coast.
  • Transfer Update 2019 LB Brock Holland transfers from Viera to Cocoa High.
  • Transfer Update: 2021 RB KeyShawn Spencer transfers from Holy Trinity to MCC.
  • Transfer Update: 2021 QB/DB Diego “DJ” Arroyo transfers from Vero Beach to Cocoa High.
  • Transfer Update: 2019 RB Nate Wright transfers from Heritage to Palm Bay.
  • Transfer Update: 2020 FS Jahiem Mayes transfers from Cocoa to Palm Bay.
  • Transfer Update: 2019 ATH Hunter Lee transfers from Melbourne to Viera.
  • Transfer Update: 2020 RB/SS Amarion Gaines transfers from Heritage to Cocoa High.
  • Transfer Update: 2020 LB Jalen Butler transfers from Rockledge to Titusville.
  • Transfer Update: 2021 DE/TE Trayvon Jefferson transfers from Astronaut to Titusville.
  • Transfer Update: 2020 CB Ricky McKinnis Jr transfers from Melbourne Central Catholic to Cocoa High.
  • Transfer Update: 2021 RB/DB Jonathan Brown transfers from Astronaut to Titusville.

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