Forest Hill football set for first district title defense in decades

·4 min read

WEST PALM BEACH ⁠— Forest Hill's 2021 football season was one for the ages, as a program better-known for the duration of its losing streaks (one ended at 43 games in 2003; another at 37 in 2009) won its first district championship in 36 years.

The head coach for those 7-3 Falcons, who lost to Vero Beach in the first round of the FHSAA state tournament, was Jim Basford. When he decided to return to Texas after only one historic season, thoughts turned to success departing with him.

But with the promotion of last season's offensive line coach, Garret Necaise, to head coach in March, hopes for another rare winning season of Falcons football spring eternal. The coach, however, sounds guardedly optimistic.

"We were blessed to have the guys we had last year, and the coaching staff," Necaise says. "This year could be more of a challenge."

It's the first week of a brutally-hot August, when many teams hold short practices twice a week before school has even started. But Necaise has his young team, which lost 10 seniors from last year's squad, out for two-and-a-half-hour sessions Monday-Friday.

Drills are performed on the outfield of the school's baseball diamond in order to save the adjacent football field for games, with yard lines chalked in red. Water breaks are frequent and essential.

The first-year head coach emphasizes blocking techniques (leverage, balance, weight distribution) to offensive linemen and running backs, and outlines the different defensive pursuit involved in playing against a left-handed quarterback, like the Falcons' senior Spanish River transfer Robert Furney, and right-handed junior Miche Estime.

First-year Forest Hill head coach Garrett Necaise (left) watches drills prior to the Falcons' 2022 season.
First-year Forest Hill head coach Garrett Necaise (left) watches drills prior to the Falcons' 2022 season.

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In separate drills, assistant coach and defensive coordinator Daniel Jackson oversees Furney and Estime throwing to the squad's receivers and tight ends, like 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior Francis Diaz.

"Okay, if we can get three catches in a row," Jackson yells, "you can have another water break!"

Rebuilding an offensive line

As a tight end from Kiln, Mississippi ⁠— "Where Brett Favre is from," Necaise says of the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback ⁠— the head coach often became the de facto sixth offensive lineman while playing high school and junior college ball.

So there's a reason he was a successful offensive line coach on last year's squad and is emphasizing the importance of success up front again.

"We lost three starting offensive linemen from last season to graduation," Necaise says, "We also had another starter transfer, and one of our centers suffered a torn labrum and decided not to play anymore."

Blocking drills illustrate his concern. Some offensive linemen follow his instruction to stay low, driving opponents backward. Others are left picking themselves up after getting pancaked by defensive linemen.

Finding a coaching staff

Forest Hill junior quarterback Miche Estime (center, No. 5) speaks with teammates during the Falcons' preseason practice.
Forest Hill junior quarterback Miche Estime (center, No. 5) speaks with teammates during the Falcons' preseason practice.

In Jackson, Necaise appears to have the sort of vocal leader ⁠— with a winning pedigree ⁠— to bring out the best in the Falcons' young athletes. Sporting a Pittsburgh Steelers cap, he wears his hometown on more than just his sleeve. And Jackson isn't only from the same area as an NFL Hall of Fame QB, but he once competed against one.

"I played against Dan Marino in high school," says Jackson, a former defensive back with college and semi-pro experience. "And it was a challenge, to say the least. If you thought he was great in college and the pros, you should've seen him before his knee injuries, when he could run. And that arm! I saw him throw a pass 100 yards once."

Necaise has a good assistant coaching nucleus, but is simply short-filling positions. Other than Jackson, his staff consists of offensive coordinator Dwayne McClendon and linebackers coach Ron Mack.

"We actually had coaches last year," says Liliana Sanchez, an attending PE teacher and team bookkeeper who might be drawn into the staff. "But one moved, and a couple others decided they didn't want to coach anymore. I know these kids, so I might at least be able to help them out with weight training."

A tale of two quarterbacks

Most of the practice snaps are taken by either Furney, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound lefty transfer, or Estime, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-hander who was on last year's squad.

"Big Ben might step up," Jackson says of pocket passer Furney, likening him to former NFL signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger. "Or Miche, who can scramble. It'll be whoever leads the team, and whoever the team will follow."

Both have accurate arms, hitting receivers on short, intermediate, and long routes.

"We'll see about Robert," Necaise says of the huge left-hander nicknamed "Tank." "Miche played a lot of snaps last year, but it was his first year playing. These guys all really want to win, and are working hard. Our goal is to win a playoff game, something this school has never done."

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Forest Hill football set for first district title defense in decades