You’ve got to hand it to the Baldwin Indians, the team that the Wildcats will face off against on Friday night in the Kickoff Classic at Memorial Stadium in Macclenny.
The Indians are a team on the upswing.
Last season Coach Steve Shields took a team that was 4-8 in the previous year and turned it into a playoff team. The Indians went 9-3 last year and though they lost to the Village Charter school in the first round of the playoffs, it was a huge achievement.
Shields and his squad hope to continue with his rebuilding model as they take on the Wildcats in the Kickoff Classic. The game gives both teams an opportunity to evaluate talent and their off-season moves before they both open up for real next weekend.
Pre-season games are always tricky because the fans in the stands have a slightly different mind set compared to coaches on the sidelines. Fans anticipate seeing a real live game, while the coaches use the Classic to evaluate how players react in a real-time setting.
Coach Ryan Sulkowski and his staff have to fill some holes left by graduation. The most obvious are at quarterback and receiver with the graduation of Thomas Sirk and Kendrick Singleton. But another big hole is in the placekicking position.
Jeremy Wannamaker was almost automatic with extra points and finding someone to boot a 40-50 yard field goal isn’t easy. Kicker is a skill position difficult to reload and over the summer several players have been vying for the starting slot.
There are new players on the offensive and defensive line and in some of the receiver positions. One skill position with a lot of experience is at running back where 1000-yard rusher Falon Lee could be in position for a big year. The Cats relied on the passing game a lot last season and new quarterback Corey Lawler has some good prospects at receiver, but Lee could see a lot of touches as they develop.
Defensively the Wildcats look strong, with speed at the defensive back position and a couple of tough defensive ends in Jon Kinney and CeCe Jefferson. Blake Mills and the line is rock solid on defense and Mills and Jefferson are pre-season All-First Coast picks.
The game kicks off at 7:30 pm at Memorial Stadium. The varsity is scheduled to go for the first half and the JVs will square off in the second.