There are many aspects to building a successful football team, but speed is an irreplaceable aspect.
Whether speed is used for a breakaway touchdown, closing in for a tackle or scrambling to make something out of nothing, it’s evident when a player brings elite speed to the gridiron.
“If you’ve got speed, you’ve got all the cards,” Milton head coach Harry Lees said. “You can get away with a lot more things when you have speed. If you don’t have speed, you’ve got to coach a lot harder.
“When I came to Florida about 20 years ago from Alabama, I was amazed at the difference in speed. Kids close so much faster and those windows get tighter.”
Here’s a look at the fastest players on each team in Santa Rosa County, in alphabetical order by school.
Carson Hepworth, WR/LB, Class of 2022; Cole Hartley, WR, 2021; Seth Massey, WR, 2021
Head coach Bobby Clayton said it’s almost as if this trio of receivers were cut from the same mold, as each one is 6-foot-2 and weights between 170 and 185 pounds.
On top of that, they all run well.
“Hepworth is a tremendous athlete that plays three sports,” Clayton said. “Last year we used him at wideout, he played some back up quarterback and played in the secondary. This year, we are moving him to inside slot receiver and outside linebacker. He’s a very talented player that comes from a great family.”
Hartley didn’t grow up playing football, but has come into a leadership role for the Dolphins.
Clayton credit Hartley for his speed and length, adding that he has “go-go gadget” arms.
“He’s got the speed to take the top off the defense on go’s and posts,” Clayton said. “He’s really committed to the weightroom and learning football and playing receiver. His route running has improved tremendously. He’s gifted with speed and length, and you can’t really coach those things.”
Massey started high school at Gulf Breeze but spent last season at Catholic High.
He returned to Gulf Breeze in the middle of the school year, bringing his athleticism, football skills and track and field ability along with him.
“He does high jump, triple jump, pole vault and it seems like just about everything in track and field,” Clayton said. “He’s a freakishly athletic kid. He can jump, run and do it all.”
Kaden Roberson, DB/WR, 2021; Solomon Randsom, RB, 2021
Roberson brings a valuable combination of speed and athleticism to the Royals and is expected to lead the teams secondary and be a major contributor to the defense as a whole.
“He’s our most experienced DB coming back and we are going to have to rely on him a lot,” Jay coach Melvin Kersey said. “He’s got very reliable hands at receiver. He’s entering his third year as a starter and has been in the fire. He’s had a lot of playing time and is a versatile kid. He’s really started to take some leadership for us this summer.”
Randson returns to Jay after spending last season at Crawfordville Wakulla, being part of a team that finished 13-1 and reached the state semifinals.
“We are glad to have him back and he’s our fastest guy,” Kersey said. “He was a decent tail back for us as a 10th grader, he just had James Eddings (PNJ Super Senior, Class 1A All-State selection) in front of him. He’s matured physically and mentally and is going to play a big role for us. We are also hoping he can step in and play some inside linebacker. He’s got a good frame and can really run.
“Both of these guys are going to be key players for us and have been in the past.”
Lamonte Cunningham, RB, 2021; Chase Morgan, LB, 2021; Raymond Cottrell, WR, 2023
Milton has its speediest leaders spread out in different spots of the field.
Cunningham returns this year after missing his junior season due to an ACL tear. He led the Panthers in rushing as a sophomore.
“When I was six playing little league, I was a bench player,” Cunningham said. “My papa begged the coach to put me in for one play. I got in, touched the ball for the first time and ran for a 60-yard touchdown. Ever since then I’ve been playing running back.”
Cunningham his eager to make his return to the field and is also optimistic about his speedy teammates.
“I fee like we could be real special this year,” Cunningham said. “With the seniors we have coming back, and the younger guys that have really stepped up we’ve got a lot of skill.”
Cottrell is aiming to build on a promising freshman campaign where he caught 22 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns. He picked up eight offers which include Auburn, Florida State and Georgia.
Cunningham calls Cottrell a humble beast.
“Raymond is a guy that teams usually have to prepare for,” Lees said. “He looks like a completely different kid than he did a year ago. He had all kinds of talent, but was an underdeveloped freshman. Now, he’s looking like a grown man out here and has a confidence you can see.”
Morgan brings the speed to lead on defense and is valuable in pass coverage and run stopping. He led the Panthers with 7.9 tackles-per-game last season.
“He’s a guy that can play inside the box and also go out and match up and run with receivers,” Lees said. “He definitely helps us out. He can flat out go when he runs. Colleges look for linebackers that can do both.”
AJ Arno, WR, 2021; Jabari Mitchell, WR, 2021; Trent Hall, ATH, 2022
The Raiders find their best speed among the receivers within a trio of players that each averaged more than 20 yards-per-reception last season.
Navarre coach Jay Walls said Mitchell and Hall have the potential to impact the game in all three phases for the Raiders.
“Jabari played receiver for us last year,” Walls said. “He’s got a chance to play some DB and be involved in the kicking game. His speed makes a difference in the way he can play. We think he’s going to be one of our top guys this year. Trent is very similar and is simply a big-play guy.”
Arno said he developed a greater sense of maturity and work ethic last season after realizing that he needed to work harder to secure playing time.
He earned his shot later in the season and certainly made his mark.
“All three of them are definitely friends and are good teammates to eachother,” Walls said. “ I think they compete and all three play receiver. There always trying to make big plays and make a difference. With AJ and Jabari being seniors and Trent as a junior, they’ve realized they can be leaders and step up their game.”
Tyler Strain, DB, 2021; Eddie Craig, DB, 2021
The Patriots have two track stars that double up as corners on the outside of Pace football’s defense.
“Their speed allows us to play some man coverage on the outside some,” Pace coach Kent Smith said. “It makes it so opposing offenses can’t necessarily go to one side all the time. Having two good corners always makes a defense better.”
Both Strain and Craig have recorded 100m dash time under 11 seconds, with Strain’s best at a 10.96 and Craig at 10.90.
Smith said both athletes run 40-yard dashes in the 4.4-second range.
Strain recently committed to Illinois and also earned an invite to the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl Game this month.
“Both of these guys do a great job,” Smith said. “We will use them on offense, too. They are here every day working this summer, working on speed training and anything else they can get done. We are looking for big things out of them this year.”
Brian Achatz can be reached at [email protected]