High School Sports

Prep football | Defense ahead of injury-plagued offense at IMG Academy scrimmage

BRADENTON -- While the majority of IMG's 50-plus players ran through drills and stretches on the field before their spring intrasquad scrimmage, a handful of others watched from the sideline without pads under their jerseys.

That group included arguably the Ascenders' three best offensive players -- wide receiver Tavares Chase, quarterback Malik Henry and tight end Isaac Nauta -- plus a few other defensive starters and offensive linemen.

With coaches from more than a dozen colleges in attendance Thursday at IMG Academy Stadium, including representatives from Alabama and LSU, the spring game provided a chance for the Ascenders to showcase some of the players further down the depth chart as well as their new offense.

Sam Dages, Louis Colosimo and Kyle Burnett took turns under center, usually flinging the ball to rising senior wide receiver Kjetil Cline or handing the ball to running backs Jack Wegher, Tony Jones Jr., Josh Lerner or Taven Birdow.

"We had nice drives," head coach Kevin Wright said. "We had a lot of coaches out here watching. ... All of a sudden some other guys are banged and you've gotta fill the next guy up."

For most of the spring, IMG's defense has been ahead of its offense. On Thursday, the two sides traded blows with the defense still more often than not coming out on top.

The scrimmage consisted of four "quarters," which were really just 12-play drives that alternated from starting at midfield and starting at the opposing 25-yard line. If the offense scored, the ball was moved back to its starting point so the offense could reach its 12-play total. If the defense forced a turnover on downs or takeaway, the ball returned to the line of scrimmage for a first down so the offense again could reach its 12 plays.

On the first drive, Burnett and IMG marched down the field from the 50 before stalling inside the 10. The Ascenders didn't break through for a touchdown until their second drive, which started from the 25.

Dages connected with wide receiver Emmanuel Greene down the left sideline for an 18-yard completion. Two plays later, Dages fired a pass to Cline on a slant from the right side for a touchdown in the back of the end zone.

Cline, who is considered a three-star prospect by the 247sports composite, was IMG's most consistent in the passing game, leading the team in receptions and making plays for all three of the Ascenders' quarterbacks.

"Everything has been building," Cline said. "This was a really good showing for us."

IMG found the end zone twice more during the second half -- both times on short runs by Birdow, who picked up an offer from Army West Point on Wednesday -- but otherwise the offense was held in check by the defense.

One of the Ascenders' goals during the spring was for their offensive linemen to become more familiar with each other. They likely won't play many defenses tougher than their own in 2015, but the IMG pass rush gave them trouble.

Stats, and especially sacks of quarterbacks wearing non-contact jerseys, were unofficial Thursday. More than 10 times, though, a linebacker or defensive lineman burst through the offensive line and raced at the quarterback, prompting whistles to blow and signal the play dead.

As good as the Ascenders' offense has the potential to be once healthy, their defense is even more impressive, featuring three of the top 55 players in the country.

"We're starting to click as a defense, starting to unite as a team," linebacker Jango Glackin said. "Working as a unit, everybody doing their job and just executing."

Coaches began to trickle out of the stadium during the fourth "quarter," which meant only a few were around to get a look at IMG's surprising new discovery at kicker.

The scrimmage finished with kickers launching field-goal attempts while surrounded by teammates. With the wind at their backs, the Ascenders gave Angel Trujillo, their Venezuela-born, England-raised wide receiver, a chance to put some up himself.

The former rugby and soccer player had exclusively been a wide receiver for IMG until this week, when director of football Steve Walsh saw him playing kickball and suggested he try kicking field goals.

He started in close Thursday and just kept hitting. Eventually he was 57 yards away and punching wind-aided field-goal attempts between the posts.

"I like it," Trujillo said. "This is like my fifth day kicking."