Preseason Kickoff Classics to get area teams ready for real thing

Since 1999, most area teams have been playing a Kickoff Classic game format, before that, it was jamborees

By Joe Williams, Orlando Sentinel

In his mind, Jones linebacker Withney Simon realizes the regular season will not begin until next week, when the Tigers host Wekiva. In his competitor's heart, in every instinct that runs through the 6-foot, 215-pound senior's body, he does not know how to differentiate between games.

Preseason or regular season, they should be treated the same. So when the Tigers play at Bishop Moore on Friday night in a preseason Kickoff Classic, Simon does not plan to take it easy.

"I am going into it looking at it as a real game," said Simon (whose first name is pronounced Wit-NEY). "To be the best you can be, you cannot look at the first game as a preseason game. Even if it doesn't count on your record, you have to play with everything you have."

Jones High School player, Withney Simon

Jones linebacker Withney Simon will lead the Tigers against Bishop Moore in a preseason Kickoff Classic on Friday night. (Joshua C. Cruey, Orlando Sentinel)

Most area football teams will play in Kickoff Classics, a sort of trial run highlighted by matchups that include Daytona Beach Mainland at Lake Mary, Oviedo at Kissimmee Osceola, Edgewater at Winter Park and Lyman at Apopka.

Some will approach the game as if the result will matter in a week — or less. Others go the route of how it was when teams played preseason jamborees, when a team would play two opponents for a quarter each and usually would not formulate game plans.

Kickoff Classics are four-quarter affairs against one opponent, for which teams might watch film and coaches consult scouting reports.

"We'll use most of our starters most of the way," Lake Mary coach Scott Perry said. "We want our first teams in all three phases — special teams, offense and defense — on the field as much as possible. That's why we want to play a good program like Mainland, who will test us.

"We can see where we stand and correct things next week."

FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers said Kickoff Classics started in 1999 as a way to produce revenue for the state association and high schools. In the past 15 years, the game has morphed into an pseudo 11th regular-season game for many schools.

Some preferred jamboree formats.

"The thing about jamborees, there wasn't so much pressure to win," Hagerty coach Phil Ziglar said. "Now, guys are looking at Kickoff Classics as a game. I want to win, but it is more important to evaluate my players. I remember when I was at Boone, and we went to the state championship game [in 2007] after we got beat 35-7 by Winter Springs in the Classic.

"After that game, everybody was like, 'Boone is terrible.' I looked at it as a scrimmage. We were still evaluating players. We won our next 14 games before losing [to Miami Northwestern] in the [Class 6A] state championship game."

Simon said Jones' coaches began noticing him during a Kickoff Classic two years ago. After playing sparingly early, Simon took advantage of increased playing time in the second half.

He made tackles all over the field.

"By the fourth game, we played [Miami] Booker T. Washington. I was starting as a sophomore," Simon said. "My attitude changed after that [preseason] game. I knew I could play on the varsity, and my effort in that game and in practices gave the coaches confidence in me."

Jones senior wide receiver Sedarius Young follows Simon's approach.

"If I slack, there will be someone there to take my position," Young said.

Said Jones coach Kevin Lewis: "I liked the jamboree format because it gave you an opportunity to experience two schools instead of one. But the Classic is the only game where you can practice everything that you are going to be doing for the next 10 or 11 weeks."

As for Lake Mary's Perry, any time that the Rams get a chance to play is worth the effort.

"You exchange films; you game-plan,'' he said. "It's like a week in the regular season."

Let the "preseason" games begin.

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