For five of the area’s 10 football teams, Friday’s unveiling of the new FHSAA district assignments brought with it one resounding message: The odds of making the playoffs have drastically improved.
Previously lumped into a parity-driven, six team District 2-6A, which finished a collective 35-29 last year and had three teams finish above .500, Fort Walton Beach, Niceville, Choctaw, Navarre and Crestview will now be split into two three-team districts spread across two different classes.
Niceville and Crestview moved up to District 1-7A alongside Tate after eclipsing the 1,872 student enrollment, while FWB, Choctaw and Navarre will battle it out in the familiar District 2-6A that also lost Mosley.
“It’s not the best situation, but we just have to make the most of it,” said Niceville coach John Hicks, who hasn’t played in a three-team district since 2006.
With the top two teams in each district advancing to the playoffs, the new setup ensures that three of those five area teams will make a postseason appearance.
But as much as the playoff odds have increased, the room for error in district play has greatly dwindled.
“To me it really makes those two games, us playing Fort Walton and Choctaw, really big,” Navarre coach Jay Walls said. “There’s little room for error.”
That’s especially true in District 2-6A, where each rivalry will reach new heights.
“There’s a great rivalry between Fort Walton and Choctaw, and we’re just 15 miles down the road so I feel those district games will take on new meaning,” Walls said. “We feel like it’s a good thing.”
Sitting especially pretty are Niceville, which has made 12 straight trips to the playoffs, and Crestview, both of which have to compete with an Aggies program that is 4-26 over the last three seasons. But Hicks understands that the days are long gone when the Eagles could start off district play slow, like this year when they began 0-2 and the year before when they lost their opener.
“We didn’t intentionally get off to a slow start the last two years,” Hicks said, “but we definitely can’t afford that to happen again this year.”
With small districts comes more work in trying to fill out the schedule for coaches, but both Hicks and Walls said fans can expect a similar slate to previous years.
Walls has already scheduled Santa Rosa rivals Pace and Milton, while Hicks has scheduled Okaloosa County rivals Choctaw and Fort Walton Beach with hopes of adding Navarre soon before completing a schedule that should be done by the end of February.
“When you look at last year’s district opponents, we’ll still try to play those schools,” Walls said.
As for the remaining area schools, little has changed.
Walton remained in District 1-4A, which still houses Marianna and East Gadsden but swapped out Florida High for Taylor County. South Walton stayed in District 3-1A, which added Blountstown to a slate that includes Bozeman, Chipley and Holmes County. Freeport and Baker also stayed put in District 1-1A, which remained unchanged as Jay and Northview returned.