8A – Venice Indians
2022 OT Makhete Gueye – 6’7” 275 pounds
Louisville got a steal on Wednesday when they signed this big fella. The Senegal native is in his first year of playing football, but the Venice coaching staff clearly put him in a position to be successful. Gueye has settled in as a long and athletic offensive tackle. He explodes off the ball and packs a punch. He is very effective at getting to the second level and abusing linebackers. Venice dominated Columbus in the State Semifinal, 35-7. The offense churned out 473 total yards highlighted by 346 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns on 46 carries (7.5 ypc). He was a huge part of that success. He will have to continue to play well in the 8A championship against an outstanding Apopka defense who will be aggressive and determined to stop the Venice ground game.
2023 DE Damon Wilson – 6’5” 250 pounds
It is clear that this game will be won in the trenches, and Venice will have to slow down an Apopka offense who lives and dies with the run game. Apopka only averages 58 passing yards per game. Venice is going to sell out to stop the run game and dare them to throw against their disciplined secondary. Wilson is a big powerful defensive end. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much film on Hudl, but his performance against Columbus was impressive. Against the Explorers, he had 11 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks. He gets off the ball with intensity and is difficult to block. You can see plenty of those plays on this video. Heading into the title game, he has 80 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and 14 sacks. He’s a monster.
8A – Apopka Blue Darters
2022 OL Dyson Hurlburt 6’3” 240 pounds & 2023 OL Demetrius Hall – 6’2” 306 pounds
We are going to continue the big-guy trend here. As always, Apopka has some motor graders on the offensive line. Apopka rushed for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns while averaging 8.2 yards per carry against a strong Treasure Coast defense. As I noted above, Apopka averages just 58 passing yards per game. They are a smash-mouth football team. They aren’t going to come out and start throwing the ball in the state championship on Saturday. They will do what they do best, and run the football behind these guys. Apopka flips their offensive line, so these two are all over the place on film. They are both very physical, have great motors, and move well. You will see them pulling often on film. Dyson Hurlburt plays Tackle. He gets off the ball really well with an excellent pad level. Once he gets his hands on defenders, he finishes blocks really nicely. Demetrius Hall is a bigger-body who primarily plays Guard. The junior also does a great job of engaging and finishing blocks. For a good look at the Apopka offensive line’s combined body of work, check out 2023 RB Keyondray Jones’ Junior Highlights.
2022 LB Andre Phillips – 6’1” 215 pounds
Phillips had 5 tackles and a team-best 2 tackles for loss in Apopka’s shutout against Treasure Coast. He is listed as an OLB/DE but also played inside in that game. He played well coming off the edge, and seems to read well and come downhill with good speed on the inside. Apopka has an extremely talented defense and we have highlighted several of them. If Phillips can make plays like he did last week, it will help their cause in a big way.