Sports Editor Justin Kline builds a “fantasy team” with 2018’s top players.
QB: Braxton Plunk, Plant City
Braxton Plunk’s high school career ended with a truly exceptional senior season that saw Plant City’s field general throw for more than 2,600 passing yards and 26 touchdowns, which helped Plant City win nine games and get back into the playoffs. The 2018 Guy Toph Award winner played all 11 games for the Raiders and showed the kind of leadership and decision-making any football program would want from their QB1.
RB1: Zamir’ Knighten, Plant City
The running back factory at 1 Raider Place struck again in 2018, with Zamir’ Knighten stepping up to establish a solid run game. Knighten accounted for 1,038 of the team’s 1,331 total rushing yards in his junior season and added nine touchdowns to boot. It’ no wonder Plant City has high hopes for Knighten going into the 2019 season.
RB2: Tyrhon Brooks, Durant
Durant’s offense in 2018 was extremely run-heavy, even for a team well-known for its love of the ground game. Of the Cougars’ running backs committee — and of the entire offense — it was Tyrhon Brooks who led the pack. Brooks led the team with 466 rushing yards and also scored three touchdowns in his junior season.
WR1: Mario Williams, Plant City
Mario Williams and Cal Naughton Jr. don’t have much in common, but you can describe watching them in the same way: “Now you see him… now you don’t.” The most electrifying player in Hillsborough County torched defenses and special teams units alike with 1,189 all-purpose yards and 16 total touchdowns (14 by air, two on returns). It’s easy to see why almost every major college football program is fighting for him.
WR2: Chris Wilson, Plant City
As fast as Williams plays, he wasn’t always able to get open against double or triple coverage. Luckily for Plant City, Chris Wilson’s steady hands and playmaking ability came through in all 11 games. Wilson racked up an even 600 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 2018 while nearly leading the team with 49 grabs, settling into his role as a reliable possession receiver.
FLEX: De’Qwan Myers, Plant City
De’Qwan Myers’ 324 receiving yards and five touchdowns would have led all players on either Durant or Crest in 2018. Four of his touchdown catches came in back-to-back games, but it was the second one — against Armwood — where “Scooter” shined: six grabs for 157 yards against one of the best defenses in the state.
OL: Plant City
The Raiders’ o-line paved the way for the area’s most successful offensive attack. They helped Plant City gain 1,331 yards rushing (an area-high 5.4 yards per attempt) and protected Braxton Plunk well enough that he finished all 11 games and won the biggest individual award the county has to offer.
K: Chris Rodriguez, Plant City
Statistically speaking, Chris Rodriguez didn’t have the highest field goal percentage in the area despite taking the most attempts. Rodriguez sent six of his 11 attempts, or roughly 55 percent, safely between the posts in 2018. But if you need to get a PAT, Rodriguez is your man: he went 36-for-36 after Plant City touchdowns.
DB1: C.J. Barnes, Durant
It’s very rare for non-linebackers to get more than 100 tackles in a season. Durant safety C.J. Barnes finished 2018 with 107 total (66 solo, 41 assisted) to his name. Barnes proved himself to be a hard-hitting, headstrong DB in his junior season and really stepped up when defensive leader Demarcus Governor had to miss a few games due to injury.
DB2: Tyreke Harrison, Plant City
The only thing inconsistent about Tyreke Harrison was his jersey number. One of the best defensive backs to come through Plant City in recent years, the “Juice” did everything asked of him and did it well. He finished 2018 with 83 total tackles (63 solo, 20 assisted), three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two blocked punts, two blocked field goals, an interception and 11 pass breakups.
DB3: Demarcus Governor, Durant
The leader of Durant’s defense had to miss three games due to injury, but other teams tended to respect his presence on the field when he was healthy. Demarcus Governor’s senior season didn’t turn out quite the way he hoped it would, but he still ended his high school career as one of the best defensive players Durant has ever produced.
DB4: Cody Newman, Strawberry Crest
Cody Newman was called upon to quarterback the defense at free safety and did just that, proving to be a reliable leader of the unit with a motor that never quit. Coach Ron Hawn called Newman the best free safety he’d “ever had, anywhere.”
LB1: D.J. Gordon IV, Plant City
Nobody in the area loved to flex more than D.J. Gordon IV, but he had plenty of reasons to do so beyond being a visible fan of the PCHS weight room. Gordon IV led all area players with 126 tackles (86 solo, 40 assisted) and eight sacks in his senior season. He forced five fumbles and recovered three. He also got more involved in other areas of the game and added one rushing touchdown and some work as a return man to his resume.
LB2: Josh Young, Strawberry Crest
I wasn’t really sure where to put Josh Young because he played just about everywhere on the field. Seriously, this kid does everything. Linebacker? Check. Defensive end? Check. Tight end? Check. Kicker? Check. Punter? Check. Players like Young who are willing to reinvent themselves and work hard enough to excel at it are players you’d have to be crazy to not want on your team.
LB3: Ashton Mincey, Plant City
Another year, another solid linebacking committee in Plant City. Ashton Mincey came back from a 2017 ACL tear and looked like he’d never lost a step, finishing with 66 total tackles (35 solo, 31 assisted) and a fumble recovery. Considering the nature of his injury — and that he healed up well ahead of schedule, getting into full pads by August 2018 — it was an impressive end to a solid high school career.
LB4: Edward Zanato, Durant
Durant sent a very young team onto the field in 2018, but then-sophomore Edward Zanato played more like a veteran. Zanato came just three tackles shy of hitting the 100 mark in total (57 solo, 40 assisted) and quickly became a bright spot of the defensive unit.
DL: Plant City
Though Plant City’s linebackers get a lot of credit for work done in the front of the defense, the Raiders’ defensive line was no slouch. The team moved to a three-man front for 2018 and, in particular, James Booth’s decision to convert former wideout Emmanuel Baez to defensive end really paid off: Baez finished 2018 with six sacks (second only to Gordon IV) and a team-high four QB hurries.