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The Key West Citizen

Conchs facing another challenge in preparation for district schedule

By By J.W. COOKE Keys Citizen,


Looking at the results of the past half-decade for the University High football team, admittedly Key West High coach Johnny Hughes thought it might be a good tune-up game for the month ahead; after all, the Titans have amassed a 20-29 record in that span and are coming off a 3-7 season.

The 2023 campaign has shown a much different side of the Titans, outscoring their opponents 136-71 in three straight wins to begin the season, entering the contest on Friday, Sept. 15, on the Key West High Back Yard gridiron at 7 p.m.

“It has turned out to be tougher than we thought, but that’s high school football in Florida,” said Hughes. “They have had up-and-down years, big playoff runs in the past and then down years, but they are up this year. You never know what a team will look like with the transfer portal, and these guys have done a nice job in putting it together so we have to go out there and ruin their little party.”

Not to be confused with University School, which is associated with Nova Southeastern University and a common opponent for Monroe County sports programs, or University Christian, which is out of Jacksonville and Key West hosts next Friday, Sept. 22, University High is based in Orange City, in north Central Florida and plays on the 4S level — two above the Conchs 2S.

“I don’t know, I guess people got bored with names,” Estevez said jokingly. “I don’t know much about them, to be honest, I have seen that they are 3-0, but I’m not sure about the skill level they have played because I don’t know a lot of the teams they have played, but I expect them to be more of a challenge than last week.”

While University has won three straight to enter the season, Key West is coming off its first victory by 28 against Oxbridge, something Hughes expressed should have “already been in the bag,” while Estevez furthered that it has helped keep the Conchs humble.

“I am happy we are not overly cocky, and I think are still on a good pace and ready like we were last week,” said Estevez.

The coach furthered that Key West will need to focus, especially on defense, against the speed of University.

“Offensively, I am impressed with what they are, they have three running backs who could start on a lot of teams,” said Hughes. “Their passing game is also solid, so they will have a track team out there which means we have to take advantage of our opportunities and not give them any extra.”

Even though the Conchs coach expects to be challenged on defense, he stressed it is something the Conchs have become accustomed to this season playing Trinity Catholic, Clewiston and IMG Academy,

“They will be bigger than us, everyone is bigger than us, even last week they were bigger than us, which was surprising because they seemed smaller on the film,” said Hughes. “University won’t have the 300-pound guys who can move, like that Trinity Catholic offensive line, but at the skill positions they have some weapons.”

As it has been in every game this season, the turnover battle will be key for Key West’s victory chance, as even though they only gave the ball away once, Hughes pointed out there were other times the ball was on the ground but recovered by his players.

“They are all self-inflicted mistakes we just can’t make. We are getting better but still not where we want to be,” said Hughes. “We are moving the ball but just taking our opportunities away from ourselves and giving them to the other team. We are not deep enough to do that and once again we are missing a few guys.”

Not expected to line up for a second straight week will be starting running backs and linebackers Jaden Fox and Shane Lavallee, as well as backup Tristian Weech and Jaboc Nicholson.

“Our triage unit is getting a little larger,” said Hughes. “It’s not pulled hamstrings, but instead hairline fractures to the ankle or a separated shoulder, so things that are pretty serious. We have to try and control the clock and shorten the game down, but last week Leo (Batista) stepped up and so did RJ, but RJ is on defense and we need him there, and missing those backups hurts because that takes away the breathers from the guys like RJ.”

Estevez admitted he cramped last week, which is why he was unable to carry the ball more, but this week he expects the Conch attack can exploit the Titans on the defensive side .

“Offensive is a lot of fun and I think we can do some good things, but I play a lot of spots as it is, and I know the defense is going to have to step up and stop their run game,” said Estevez. They are very fast and agile so hopefully we can keep up with that. They run the spread most times, so it will be cut and dry what they are doing but we have to stop it.”

Following the two home games against the high-powered University unit, Key West will begin its District 16-2S schedule with a road swing that includes playing four of its final five in the Naples area. Hughes explained these games at the Back Yard should help prepare for the final stretch and a shot at the district crown.

“It will be a challenge, no question about it, but you play these games to get you playoff ready,” said Hughes.

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