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  • Northwest Florida Daily News

    Niceville football flashes potential, attracts SEC recruiters in spring game

    By Seth Stringer, Northwest Florida Daily News,


    NICEVILLE — When your opponent shows up at your stadium demanding their quarterback can't be tackled, let alone touched, it's tough to glean much from a spring football scrimmage.

    But that's just the reality Niceville faced against visiting Escambia Monday at Eagle Stadium. Mix in the absence of track and field guys due to practice restrictions — don't even get Niceville coach Grant Thompson started on his beef with FHSAA — and other grievances arise.

    But even with the circumstances and setup, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Jacksonville State, UMass and a dozen-or-so others were in attendance recruiting and alumni like FSU cornerback Azareyeh Thomas, Mr. Football Trey Wainwright, LSU lineman Kimo Makaneole and many others were chatting it up on the sidelines. That, along with Niceville welcoming the chance to see its players in action outside of an intrasquad game, was a win.

    On a late May night three months before opening up against a loaded South Sumter squad in front of 8,000 strong at Eagle Stadium, here are three observations I took away from the spring game.

    More: Perkins wins javelin state title, leads Niceville girls track & field to 3rd-place in 4A

    Four-Peat: The unlikely story of how Niceville track and field kept its FHSAA crown

    The offseason has been kind to Kane Lafortune

    The junior looked poised in the pocket. He looked comfortable on the run. He also looked 10-to-15 pounds heavier, more equipped to take on the toll of a 13-14 game slate.

    Lafortune didn't care that he was missing Landon Isbell or his two leading receivers from last year. He also didn't care much about ceding some drives to backup Nino Freeman, who looked fleet of foot in his return to the team after playing just one game last season. Instead, Lafortune spread the love with three touchdowns to three different receivers as he picked apart the visitors in limited action.

    His first touchdown was a 60-yarder to Hartley Register, a converted running back who caught a pass in the flat, made two tacklers miss and outran the secondary to paydirt. This won't be the last we heard of Register, who's built in the mold of Navy-bound Maddax Fayard.

    "I caught it and I was like, oh, ain't nobody here," Register said. "So I started running and I'm like, oh no, I'm gone. The corner was out there waiting, and I was like I'm about to shake him. I started shaking him and he missed and then I was gone. I looked back a little to show off a little bit and that was it. My first varsity catch was my first touchdown."

    The second was an 18-yarder to Mo Speck in the left corner of the end zone. The third was a a dump off to Tim Smith, who got a block from Speck and found the pylon.

    "I've just been working really hard and been in the gym putting on weight," Lafortune said. " I've been throwing a lot to build up arm strength and I've just been working to get better."

    Last year's offense averaged a shade over 40 points a game with Lafortune under center completing 67% of his passes for 1,538 yards and 18 touchdowns compared to six picks. This offense should be even better.

    "I think we can be really explosive this year," Lafortune said. "We have a ton of receivers back this year. Our receiving corps is stacked and we have a few upcoming juniors too, and then more than a few running backs that look great this year."

    Teams will struggle to run on Niceville

    The blitz-oriented Eagles defense is predicated on playmakers who can dominate the line of scrimmage. While Escambia's refusal to play real football hurt the effectiveness of that approach Monday, Niceville still showcased why most teams will resort to attacking Niceville's secondary over their interior defense.

    Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Maddox Hayles. Newcomer of the Year Alante Reese. Jon Bocchino. Harper Campbell. Uriah West. The list goes on and on of Niceville's ball-hawking playmakers.

    As for that secondary, Amir Reese, Teray Geiger (one of three interceptions Monday night) and West will solidify that unit.

    Niceville's backfield is still a mystery concerning a 1,000-yard candidate

    Uriah West showed flashes of greatness last year. Tim Smith is shifty. Alante Reese has the frame and athleticism to take over. Meanwhile Bocchino, Register and Justice Parker Jones have potential to take on bigger roles.

    It could be a situation like years past where we see running backs coach Adron Robinson ride the hot hand. Or we could see a favorite emerge and get the requisite 15-or-so carries, all while a separate threat emerges as a goal-line threat in the heavy package. Regardless, based on Monday's limited look of several backs, carries will be earned and not given out freely come August.

    This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Niceville football flashes potential, attracts SEC recruiters in spring game

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