In December, C.J. Ingram hoisted the state football championship. In March, he took the court for basketball’s final four.
So even with more than 70,000 seats surrounding him on all sides, Hawthorne’s rising junior quarterback wasn’t about to feel stage fright taking snaps on NFL turf.
“Every field’s 100 yards,” Ingram said. “So just try not to be nervous going into an NFL stadium, stay level-headed and showcase what I can do.”
Hundreds of high school athletes from 16 Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia schools showed off their football skills at the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ TIAA Bank Field for Tuesday’s Jaguars Prep Nike 11-On tournament.
Tuesday’s event capped three days of high school action at TIAA Bank Field as well as the adjacent indoor flex field at Daily’s Place. A dozen girls flag football squads faced off Saturday, followed by 7-on-7 sessions and line challenges for boys football on Monday and Tuesday.
Choctawhatchee earned first place in Saturday’s flag football tournament, while on Monday, Trinity Christian captured the 11-On championship and Brunswick topped the lineman challenge.
Even in a format that’s a world away from the daily grind of the fall gridiron, the showcase gave players and coaches a chance to see where they measure up before the Florida High School Athletic Association opens fall practices on Aug. 1.
The assembled players also received words of support from Jaguars linebacker Foye Oluokun and offensive lineman Cooper Hodges, a Baker County graduate who played high school football only 30 miles west of the stadium he now calls home.
“Play fast and give it all you’ve got,” said Hodges, a seventh-round draft pick in April. “With that and being coachable, you can do a lot of things with that.”
The first interception Tuesday belonged to Sandalwood, a rare pick against Bartram Trail’s potent offense. The early edge didn’t last for the Saints: The Bears and UCF-committed quarterback Riley Trujillo, Class 4S regional finalists last year, rallied strongly for a 12-6 win.
But the numbers on the 7-on-7 scoreboard aren’t the main focus for Sandalwood head coach Adam Geis, entering his third decade on the Saints’ sidelines — especially on an offense that traditionally features the run. This year’s Saints must replace graduated running back Jordan Bean, who topped 1,400 yards in back-to-back years.
“It’s 11-on-11 in a couple months and that’s what counts,” he said. “So you just have fun with this stuff.”
Geis said he appreciates the opportunity to play on the Jags’ home turf, and potentially to follow in the path of several other Saints during his tenure — including current Chicago Bears defensive end Demarcus Walker — to make it to the NFL.
“We’re probably one of a handful [of NFL teams] if even that, that allow high schools to get on their actual playing surface where those kids can look up and say, ‘This might be me someday,'” Geis said.
St. Augustine isn’t just a reigning district champion. They’re also built nicely for 7-on-7.
Once the regular season starts, the Yellow Jackets are scheduled to bring back a prolific junior passer in Wake Forest commit Locklan Hewlett (2,126 yards last year) as well as four receivers with 355 or more receiving yards in Carl Jenkins, Darrell Jenkins, Trenton Jones and Myles Simmons.
“It’s fun from a team-building perspective, to get the opportunity to compete,” St. Augustine coach Brian Braddock said. “It lets quarterbacks make some under-pressure decision, and receivers and DBs have to execute.”
St. Augustine won District 4-3S last year and enters as favorite once more in a quintet that also includes Clay, Gainesville, Matanzas and Menendez. The Jackets turned on the offense and beat Oakleaf 27-13 to open their day.
“You kind of take the positives of it. We don’t hold on too closely because it’s nothing like real football, but we focus on what does transfer and we work on those things,” Braddock said.
In contrast to St. Augustine’s settled state in the ball-handling positions, much of Baldwin’s unit is under construction.
The chance to compete against live opposition is big for Baldwin head coach Robert Shields, searching for a successor to graduated starter Jalen Hitchens after qualifying for the Class 2S regionals last year.
“We’ve got a young quarterback getting a lot of reps, which we need,” Shields said.
A young offense, though, can still be a successful one. Baldwin began Tuesday with a pair of victories against Raines and Yulee, building on a 9-3 season that included the school’s first win over Baker County for more than a half-century.
Amid the mid-90s June heat in Jacksonville, Shields said Baldwin is already receiving its first test before the season.
“You see who really wants to compete,” he said.
Hawthorne is the reigning champion in the house, and it’s a house that Ingram knows well.
Coming from a Gator family — his father and coach, Cornelius Ingram, lined up at tight end for the mid-2000s Gators on their road to the national championship — he’s been there for the annual Georgia-Florida clash.
“Being surrounded by this experience in an NFL stadium, if you play football, this is where you want to be,” Ingram said. “So it’s a perfect opportunity to showcase what you’re trying to do.”
Towering above the competition at 6-6, Ingram showed off the skill that’s made him a two-sport star and netted him more than a dozen college offers.
In 2022-23, he passed for 1,016 yards and seven touchdowns, rushed for 504 yards and 14 scores and averaged 21.6 points on the basketball court — all in a season’s work. On Tuesday, he particularly excelled with a deep ball over the middle for a touchdown in the Hornets’ opening 23-13 win over Creekside.
Once the real action begins in August, Hawthorne fans can look forward to more of the same.
“We’re trying to get back to our passing offense, doing more spread and Air Raid,” Ingram said. “Just reading coverage better, that’s how I’m looking to improve on this year, and obviously scoring touchdowns.”