4S Region 2 Football: Lake Minneola looking for another deep playoff run

Lake Minneola senior wide receiver Braylon Knauth and cornerback Quentin Taylor have not shied away from going head-to-head in preparation for the 2023 season.

“It’s competitive,” Taylor said of their matchups in practice. “We just compete and try to get the best of each other and to make each other better.”

Lake Minneola, Class 4S District 5 champion vs. Clermont East Ridge, Groveland South Lake and Ocala schools Forest and West Port, is coming off of its second regional final appearance in three years.

The deep playoff run for the Hawks stalled in the Region 2 title game against eventual state champion Lakeland. Enough talent returns to expect they will be back in position to try it again.

“It’s motivating us to get better,” Taylor said of last year’s effort. “Knowing we came that close to touching states will probably help us actually get there this time.”

A young but experienced offensive line will be relied upon early as new faces in the backfield settle into a unit that returns seven starters.

Junior running back Dane Thompkins and senior quarterback Jackson Hughes saw limited snaps last fall. Senior Jacob Kania moved in after throwing for 1,821 yards, 18 TDs and 1 interception at Central Florida Christian Academy.

“Our quarterback room has definitely taken a bigger role when it comes to going out and doing routes and trying some different things,” Knauth said. “I just know that if they need me in a certain spot, that it’s my job to get there.”

Knauth finished with 46 receptions for 862 yards and 9 TDs and tallied 249 yards on special teams returns. Senior D’Nari Adams (24 catches, 304 yards, 2 TDs) also returns at wideout.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who have been in a lot of varsity games and have experience, and the new guys coming in are working hard and learning from the rest of us,” Knauth said. “It’s helped get everyone on the same page.”

Lake Minneola enters the season winners of 16 in a row vs. Lake County opponents since 2018.

East Ridge bounced back from a 1-win season in 2021 to finish 4-6 in its first year under head coach Donnie Burchfield.

The Knights will field 31 seniors and eight returning starters on each side of the ball.

“We’ve been working really hard in the weight room and hope to build on the turnaround we created last year,” Burchfield said.

Senior quarterback Cole Rylski (1,280 yards passing, 350 yards rushing), running back Darius Daily and South Lake transfer athlete Travarus Boykin are expected to be the go-to options on offense.

South Lake has turned to veteran coach Brad Lord to lead the program after winning just two games the past two years. Lord had success as head coach at Foundation Academy from 2008-20 where he led the Lions to five regional championship game appearances.

The Eagles return six starters on offense and four on defense, which includes senior athlete Marlon Trask II and linemen Jonathan Knight (Sr.), Jake Billsten (Sr.) and Jesse Barker Jr. (So.)

“We have a very dedicated coaching staff that has a ton of experience and our players are buying into the change in culture,” Lord said.

Class 4S District 5

East Ridge Knights

Coach: Donnie Burchfield (2nd year, 4-6; 8-11 career, 2 seasons).

2022: 4-6, missed 4S playoffs.

Lake Minneola Hawks

Coach: Walter Banks (9th year, 53-35; 76-62 career, 13 seasons).

2022: 10-2, 4S regional finals.

South Lake Eagles

Coach: Brad Lord (1st year; 86-55 career, 13 seasons).

2022: 0-10, missed 4S playoffs.

This article originally appeared on Email J.C. Carnahan at