MAYO, Fla. — They sat alone in the center of Dale Walker Field.
After Lafayette High’s season-ending loss to Union County in the second round of the Class 1A playoffs Nov. 15, a pair of cleats were placed on the “L” at midfield.
“I said you need to take your cleats and just leave them,” LHS coach Mark Beach said he told his son and star quarterback, Jaxson.
“Jaxson, do me a favor and take off your shoes and leave it at the ‘L’ and walk off the field because we’re not going to replace you, we’re going to slide those shoes over and the next guy is just going to have to figure it out.”
Jaxson Beach is definitely going to be hard to replace. The three-year starter rewrote the Hornets’ record book, being named All-State his first two years (and almost certainly will be again as a senior) and has been selected to play in this weekend’s FACA North/South All-Star Classic as well as the Georgia-Florida All-Star game.
Those accolades come after a career in which he threw for nearly 7,000 yards (6,995) and 84 touchdowns along with 51 rushing scores and 3,238 more yards on the ground. In leading LHS to a 9-2 mark as a senior, he completed 172 of 269 passes for 2,416 yards and 26 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He also rushed for a team-best 1,3323 yards and 23 scores.
But he also became the unquestioned leader of the Hornets.
“Obviously he’s going to be greatly missed,” Mark Beach said. “He stepped up this year. I learned a lot from my own son…standing on the sideline with him, he really wanted to be in it. He just jumped at the challenge.
“As a coach, it was awesome to see you had a guy who just believed in leading his team.”
That team included a lot of weapons around Beach, mostly sophomores. Those young Hornets had to step up in a hurry as LHS battled through adversity and countless injuries.
Senior wide receivers Adam Perry and Mark Crum both missed significant time with Perry suffering a season-ending injury against Maclay. Prior to being injured, Perry racked up 40 catches for 469 yards — grabbing 11 receptions against Brookwood and 10 more a week later against Chiefland along with a pair of touchdowns in each game.
Emerging were Nic’kel Freeman, Garrison Beach, Montae Gillyard and Mario Thomas. Freeman had 67 catches for 1,057 yards — 10 for 139 against Maclay and 11 for 102 in the playoff loss to Union — while Beach finished with 23 receptions and 357 yards. Gillyard and Thomas combined to rush for 907 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys,” Mark Beach said, adding the weight room will be key for those young guys to continue to develop. “Obviously our focal point this offseason is trying to figure out a game manager and that’s a quarterback. You don’t even try and replace a guy like Jaxson, you just have to move on.
“I’ve already begun putting the pressure on them and telling those guys that they’re the men now…We’re going to change some things offensively. We’ll still be a spread team, but we have to figure ways out to be creative in getting those guys some touches.”
Those young Hornets also were part of an improved defensive effort. LHS, which allowed a the second most points in program history in 2018, pitched three shutouts this past season, blanking Brookwood, Cedar Creek Christian and Central Florida Christian Academy.
That experience will also be crucial for Lafayette moving forward.
“We think we’re going to be better,” Mark Beach said about the Hornets’ defensively. “They’ve been in some big situations.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back that are going to be good football players. We’re not huge, but I think we are physical. Our guys fly around and the weight room has to be a big priority for us.”