First Coast Varsity Weekly: Jackson's Grayson Howard continues Gateway football streak

Not many players join the selection of Duval County's best in football for three seasons in a row.

Add Grayson Howard to the list.

The Jackson senior linebacker earned a rare third selection to the All-Gateway Conference football team, the top players at Duval County public schools as voted by coaches in the county.

The four-star linebacker, committed to South Carolina, averaged more than 17 tackles per game and recorded five sacks as the Tigers won their first district championship since 2009.

Jackson linebacker Grayson Howard (0) celebrates a stop with Tyler Fann (12) during the first quarter of a September game against Spruce Creek.
Jackson linebacker Grayson Howard (0) celebrates a stop with Tyler Fann (12) during the first quarter of a September game against Spruce Creek.

Now an All-American, he's got one more item on his agenda before South Carolina: Howard is scheduled to participate in a celebration of his signing at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 17 inside Jackson's auditorium, ahead of the NCAA's official early signing period from Dec. 21-23.

Mandarin tied with Jackson for the most selections with six, including quarterback Tramell Jones, now an All-Gateway honoree in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.

The full All-Gateway list:

Quarterbacks: Rodney Tisdale, First Coast; Marcelis Tate, Fletcher; Tramell Jones, Mandarin.

Running backs: Fred Gaines, Jackson; Tiant Wyche, Mandarin; Jordan Bean, Sandalwood.

Wide receivers: Emauri Hampton, Englewood; Thomas Jackson, First Coast; Anthony Vaglienti, Fletcher; Jaime Ffrench, Mandarin.

Offensive linemen: Quory Ambrose, Jackson; Gavin Barton, Mandarin; Solomon Thomas, Raines; Jordan Matthews, Ribault; Purnell Richardson, Sandalwood; Dante Watts, White.

Riverside defensive lineman De'Avary Weeks lines up before the snap during an October game against Trinity Christian.
Riverside defensive lineman De'Avary Weeks lines up before the snap during an October game against Trinity Christian.

Defensive linemen: Camden Hardy, Atlantic Coast; JaMari Whitehead, Raines; De'Avary Weeks, Riverside; Koron Hayward, Sandalwood; Jordan Hall, Westside.

Linebackers: Cortez Martinez, Baldwin; Grayson Howard, Jackson; Carmello Murphy, Mandarin; Lashun Mays, Parker; C.J. Allen, Sandalwood; Shawn Neloms, White.

Defensive backs: Seth Brooks, Jackson; Jon Mitchell, Mandarin; C.J. Dorsey, Parker; Kenton Kirkland, Raines; Davaughn Patterson, White.

Athletes: Jeremiah Lovely, Jackson; Tavales Thomas, White.

Kicker: Andrew Hart, Jackson.

Punter: Jaylen Clark, Raines.

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Coaching moves multiply over off-season

Keystone Heights' Chuck Dickinson looks on from the sidelines in a Sept. 1 game against Gainesville Eastside. Dickinson stepped down from the head coach position after 24 years.
Keystone Heights' Chuck Dickinson looks on from the sidelines in a Sept. 1 game against Gainesville Eastside. Dickinson stepped down from the head coach position after 24 years.

In the span of less than a month, from the Georgia state line to the shores of Lake Geneva, Northeast Florida high school football's collective coaching sideline lost more than 400 wins worth of career experience.

The resignation of Darrell Sutherland after 23 seasons at Bartram Trail is only the latest stunner in what is already shaping up to be a winter of change across the First Coast.

Sutherland, who took over a brand-new Bartram Trail program in 2000 and built a 19-time Florida High School Athletic Association playoff qualifier, left the Bears' post on Friday after a career mark of 182-94 in St. Johns County.

His resignation sent a shock wave through high school football on the First Coast. It's not the only move on the gridiron coaching carousel:

* After nearly four decades on staff and two dozen years in charge at Keystone Heights, Chuck Dickinson said he felt that the time was right.

Among the last active coaches in Northeast Florida to trace the start of his head coaching career to the 20th century, Dickinson stepped down as football coach following Keystone's 2-8 regular season. He told the Times-Union that he intends to remain at the school as athletic director.

In a letter to parents, sponsors, assistants and administrators, Dickinson thanked the community for their support and expressed confidence in the program's long-term future.

The longest-serving coach and the all-time victories leader in the program's history, in charge since 1999, Dickinson finished with a record of 118-121 in 24 seasons. His tenure included three consecutive playoff campaigns from 2019 through 2021 and a 10-2 campaign in 2021.

He also coached Keystone to its first-ever victory in an FHSAA playoff game, a 50-0 shutout of Umatilla in the Class 4A regionals last fall.

Dickinson completed the season with the third-longest active coaching tenure in Northeast Florida, exceeded only by Trinity Christian's Verlon Dorminey (32 years) and First Coast's Marty Lee (26 years). A Keystone graduate, he began coaching at the school as an assistant in 1983 under Wesley Dicks.

Dickinson said he hopes the position will be filled by January.

* West Nassau's Rickey Armstrong announced his resignation from the Warriors after nine years as head coach, including the longest period of sustained success in the school's football history.

A former all-state running back at West Nassau in the late 1980s, Armstrong had coached the Warriors since 2014, with six seasons at or above .500 and four consecutive playoff years from 2017 to 2020.

He compiled a career record of 51-43 with West Nassau, with regional final visits in 2017 and 2018. In a letter to players, parents and fans, Armstrong cited family reasons for the decision.

West Nassau finished 2-8 this season while competing in District 5-2S against Baker County, Baldwin, Fernandina Beach and Yulee.

* Christ's Church head coach Koreen Burch stepped down from the Eagles' football position Friday, after two seasons with the team.

Burch finished with a record of 7-12 over two seasons. The 2022 year ended at 2-8.

Christ's Church returned to FHSAA district competition this year after seven consecutive seasons as an independent, competing in District 1-1M. Their Oct. 28 victory over North Florida Educational Institute was the Eagles' first district win since topping Gainesville St. Francis 31-6 on Oct. 30, 2009.

The off-season has already seen more than a half-dozen vacancies around the Jacksonville area.

Montverde WIST awaits soccer locals

Just how strong is Northeast Florida's girls soccer scene in the 2022-23 season? Check the lineup at the Sunshine State's premier high school invitational.

Area teams make up five of the 12 selections for this week's annual Montverde Women's Invitational Showcase Tournament, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Montverde Academy west of Orlando.

Bartram Trail, Creekside, Fletcher, Ponte Vedra and St. Johns Country Day — three reigning FHSAA champions and two more teams that lifted 2021 trophies — are on the list.

The unbeaten Bears take on host Montverde Friday and Class 3A Lakeland Christian Saturday; Creekside plays Doral Academy and Montverde; Fletcher meets Class 4A champion Bishop Moore and Doral Academy; Ponte Vedra takes on Lakeland Christian and Winter Park; and 11-time defending champion St. Johns Country Day challenges Viera and Venice.

FSCJ ready for hoops tip-off

The eight-team Fortegra High School 9:12 Invitational for boys basketball tips off Thursday at Florida State College at Jacksonville South Campus.

Sandalwood (3-2) opens Thursday against Orange Park (3-1), followed by Oakleaf (4-0) against Raines (3-3), Camden County (1-4) meeting Nease (5-0) in a Florida-Georgia matchup and perennial power Providence (4-0) taking on Mandarin (2-3).

The competition continues with second-round games Friday and finals in both the championship and consolation brackets Saturday. Friday's semifinals will be broadcast on 1010 AM, while Saturday's third-place game and final are also televised on CW17.

Around the area

Oakleaf's Steven Farina committed to FSCJ baseball. ... St. Johns Country Day's Jeffrey Henry committed to Maryville baseball, and Paul Janeczko committed to Rollins baseball. ...  Trinity Christian's Ashton Nugent signed with Florida State College at Jacksonville baseball. ... Trinity Christian's Lauren Sweat scored a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, 11 blocks) in Monday's win against Old Plank Christian. ... Former Lee linebacker Dequan Jackson (Colorado State), former Lee guard Demetris Harris (USF) former Raines quarterback Ivory Durham IV (Valdosta State) and former Sandalwood linebacker Bradley Jennings Jr. (Indiana) and former Trinity Christian receiver D.J. Matthews (Indiana) announced their plans to enter the 2023 NFL Draft. ... Former Trinity Christian cornerback Fred Davis entered the transfer portal after two years at Clemson. ... Former Bartram Trail kicker David Kemp is transferring from Memphis. ... Former St. Augustine quarterback Austin Reed is transferring from Western Kentucky. ... Beachside's Peyton Thomas netted the first hat trick in Barracudas girls soccer history on Tuesday against Wolfson. ... Former Raines defensive end Reginald Harden, now playing wide receiver at Benedict College, concluded the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference season with a team-high 509 yards on 21 catches after Benedict's exit from the NCAA Division II playoffs against Wingate. ... Fleming Island's Lia Godfrey was named a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy for women's soccer, presented each year to the top player in the women's college game. ... Former Bartram Trail lineman Brad Cecil won the University of South Florida's inaugural Steve Walz Perseverance Award. ... Bishop Kenny defeated Creekside 61-46 in boys basketball and 50-17 in girls basketball on Friday in the annual Dom's Light tournament. ... Glynn Academy named its basketball court in honor of girls basketball coach Theresa Adams.

Clayton Freeman covers high school sports and more for the Florida Times-Union. Follow him on Twitter at @CFreemanJAX, and sign up for the First Coast Varsity newsletter at

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: First Coast Varsity Weekly: Grayson Howard leads Gateway Conference football