November 24, 2022 — 6 a.m.
For several years now, under a few different head coaches, Suwannee has closed in, closer and closer, on Wakulla’s dominance of 1A-District 2.
This might finally be the year that the Bulldogs — that’s a theme in this district, there are three teams with the same mascot — of Live Oak finally push past the War Eagles, and, maybe, establish a (another) hegemony of their own.
Suwannee — a Region 1 duals semifinalist last year and region IBT runnerup, not to mention a top-20 team at 1A IBT states in three of the past four seasons — does have some graduation losses to cover, with a pair of 2022 state qualifiers — including 152 medalist Tyson Musgrove (3rd) — moving on.
But the Bulldogs, amped up by the coverage area’s most intense duals schedule in 2021-22 (Suwannee wrestled 57 duals last year), plus two exceptionally solid IBT events, have a big group coming back, one of the biggest in the north, with 16 projected key returners back for at least one more season.
Keynoting that sizable group are five returning state qualifiers, including seniors Brody Boehm (4th at 1A-126) and Austin Howard (8th at 160), juniors Austin McKinney (7th at 132) and Topher Pearson (8th at 106), along with sophomore Eli Jolicoeur (113). The Bulldogs have an additional six who competed at the region level as well.
We won’t be surprised to see Wakulla defend both district titles starting in January; after all, no other team has won the 1A-2 district duals title and the program does have 12 straight IBT wins to defend. But the odds just look so much longer this year for the War Eagles.
For the second straight year, a heavy graduation loss needs to be overcome. Eight of last year’s War Eagle post-season starters need to be replaced, including 2022 1A state medalists Isaiah Wilson (132-6th) and Julian Harvey (106-7th) as well as three additional state qualifiers. It’s a heavy loss of talent and leadership.
Coming back for Wakulla — which will undoubtedly continue to bring a deep room to the table — will be as many as 11 projected key returners, including 2022 state qualifiers in senior Conner Brown (113 last year) and Jae T Thaxton (152 in March), along with junior Kohl Pippin (220 last year). Several of the returners were part of last years’ solid War Eagl depth, and this year will have to be ready to step into starting roles.
If the War Eagles’ recruitment goes unexpectedly awry, Florida High could very well put a charge into the race for second place. The Seminoles did lose three May graduates from last year’s group, all of them region competitors and one a state qualifier.
But Florida High brings back as many as 13 projected key returners as well, led by returning state qualifiers in senior Dean Wright (152 last year) and junior Xander Hawkes (170 last year). The Seminoles have three returners that were in the region blood round last year, but will need to see some upward steps from several of those returners, particularly the younger ones that were still sorting their way through the varsity level last year.
A Maddox returns to the head-coaching helm at Marianna, as former Bulldog Jameson Maddox heads up this year’s group, which we’re projecting — at least for now — as maintaining the middle of the district (if they can recruit a few more kids out as did last year’s team did). Marianna has five post-season starters projected to be back, four that were region qualifiers.
But it could be much closer, the race for that fourth spot, if finding fresh faces in the lineup is a struggle. The Jackson County Bulldogs lost four key May graduates off of last year’s team, three of them multiple-year starters, and replacing the middle portion of the lineup — something that had been fairly-well locked down by those seniors — is a must this season.
Liberty County gave Marianna a charge for fourth place, but having just half the roster size was a bit much for the first-year program to bear. All four of the Bristol Bulldogs made it to regions and sophomore Jay Brown (113 last year) was a region champ and the team’s lone state qualifier. The team’s calendar had the small squad well prepped for the post-season, and this season seems to be shaping up that way as well; if Liberty can get a few more kids out, that will be huge.
Godby probably brings up the rear among established teams, and while that might be seen as a setback, the Cougars, under first-year head coach Jeremy Clark, are in better position this autumn than they were a year ago at this point, with three potential key returners compared to the previous year’s one, and just one May graduate to replace compared to last year’s two.
Projected finish: 1. Suwannee. 2. Wakulla. 3. Florida High. 4. Marianna. 5. Liberty County. 6. Godby.
CAPSULES HERE: 1A-DISTRICT 2 CAPSULES