Menendez will rely on a sophomore trio to replenish its ground-based offense. The Falcons host Bartram Trail in a kickoff classic on Friday night at 7 p.m.
There are expectations in south St. Augustine. The Menendez football program is not running away from any of them them.
The Falcons have advanced to the postseason in three out of the last five years. Elsewhere in St. Johns County that may not indicative of progress; but, it certainly is at Menendez.
The challenge now, under second-year coach Kyle Skipper, is to sustain it.
“I feel we have done enough to prepare,” said senior Tre’ Evans, a three-year starter at cornerback. “If we (collaborate) as a team, do well as a team and we play together as a family I think we’re going to do great this season.”
Menendez’s 1-2 punch of Kenny Logan and Tye Edwards has graduated. Logan will be fighting for playing time in Kansas’ defensive backfield this fall, while Edwards, the 2018 St. Johns County Offensive Player of the Year, has enrolled at the Georgia Military Academy.
In their place will be a trio of sophomores. Aaron Wynn will be the primary running back, Tyshawn Campbell will be a running back and slot receiver and King Benford will be the Falcons’
Benford started two games last year — and the Falcons put up 104 points in those contests. A fluke knee injury in gym class cost him the last eight games of his freshman season; but, he has returned to full health and will employ the leadership, poise and quick-thinking that led to head coach Kyle Skipper trusting him with the offense as a freshman.
“We ran the ball a lot, of course, last year,” Benford said. “It’s not just me. Honestly, I can pass the ball and be as great as I want to be. But, if I don’t have the receivers, then passing the ball is going to be meaningless. I give credit…to my teammates and the receivers I have.”
Menendez ran the football 89.3% of the time last year. Injuries to Benford, backup Connor Spossey and a disciplinary issue with third-stringer Michael King led to the Falcons using Logan at quarterback.
As dominant and Logan and Edwards were in the backfield, Menendez lost the threat that it would throw the football for the second half of last season. Menendez has never been a program that airs it out offensively — since current Athletic Director Patrick Turner arrived as the Falcons’ football coach prior to the 2013 season, the Falcons have thrown the ball on 18.7 percent of its offensive snaps — but Benford’s return means teams can no longer put eight or nine players in the box.
One person who will likely benefit from the passing game will be senior tight end Noah Gillan. His blocking ability allowed the Falcons to secure the edge almost at will last season; but, the 6-foot-3-inch tight end does have the ability to catch and run.
“It really helps a lot to have him on the field,” Benford said. “Every young quarterback needs a tight end. Having a senior on the field, he didn’t get a chance to showcase his skills last year. But, he’s really been working in the offseason. I really appreciate him. Noah is a great tight end.”
Gillan may see time along the defensive line in the Falcons’ 4-2-5 scheme. Menendez returns seven starters from a unit that forced 23 turnovers in 11 games.
Two who will lead the defense are linebacker Ryan Schiavone and Evans, who will switch from being the Falcons’ field corner to boundary cornerback. Tre’ Lyons, senior defensive lineman Dakota Matthews, senior linebacker Colby Jorgensen and sophomore defensive back Terrell Newsome are other returnees on the defensive side of the ball.
“Coach Skip talks about it every day. We have a blueprint,” Schiavone. “Those details, when we execute and we focus on them helps us build.
“The smallest things mean the biggest in games,” Evans interjected.
“Every inch counts,” Schiavone continued.
Both seniors stated the commitment to details was instilled in them when they were freshmen. Despite the graduation of Logan and Edwards and a handful of other offensive starters and a schedule where four of the first five opponents were playoff teams in 2018, the Falcons enter this season with history on their mind.
“That’s the goal: A district championship,” Skipper said. “We feel like we have the talent in the room. Regardless of what happened last year. I think we are so different. We are a different team. We’re coming to work every, single day with the expectation of winning a district title. Winning the first district title in school history, these Falcons are ready to put their own stamp on the program.”