Quarterback Braxton Plunk and wide receiver Mario Williams both turned out award-winning performances in 2021.
Braxton Plunk was the talk of the town in Plant City as a senior at Plant City High School in 2018.
With Plunk City t-shirts worn proudly by fans that filled the bleachers and cheered on the Raiders, Plunk led Hillsborough County with 2,602 passing yards while racking up 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions en route to a 7A District 8 championship and Hillsborough County Offensive Player of the Year honors from the Tampa Bay Times.
Despite his play at the high school level, Plunk had limited options to play at the college level due to his smaller stature and ultimately enrolled at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, a powerhouse Division III football program that boasts a record 13 DIII National Championships, a record 32 DIII playoff appearances, 21 DIII National Championship appearances and has been named Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) champions nearly every year since 1992, with the lone exception coming in 2016.
In his freshman season at Mount Union, Plunk saw action in 10 games and totaled 961 passing yards with 11 touchdowns.
In 2020, Plunk became the full-time starter but the DIII National Championship and playoffs were cancelled due to COVID-19 and their football season was moved to the spring of 2021, along with a truncated schedule that featured just four regular season games and a conference championship to follow for the OAC’s top two teams. Plunk led the Purple Raiders to a perfect 3-0 season after their final game was cancelled – including a 521-yard, seven-touchdown performance in a 52-27 win over rival John Carroll – that culminated in a OAC Championship win over Heidelberg.
Following the season, Plunk garnered All-OAC First Team honors and was named the OAC Bob Packard Offensive Back of the Year.
In his first full season as Mount Union’s starting quarterback this past fall, Plunk led the Purple Raiders to a perfect 10-0 regular season and yet another OAC Championship. In the DIII playoffs, Mount Union rattled off three wins over Washington and Lee, Johns Hopkins and Muhlenberg before ultimately falling in a 26-13 loss to North Central (Ill.) in the National Semifinals, bringing their 13-1 season to a close.
Plunk led all DIII quarterbacks with 4,488 passing yards in 2021, along with 43 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was once again named to the All-OAC First Team and OAC Bob Packard Offensive Back of the Year, while also being named a semifinalist for the Gagliardi Trophy, awarded each year to the most outstanding football player in NCAA DIII.
For former Plant City High School wide receiver Mario Williams, the road to making waves at the college level came a bit differently.
Williams immediately burst on the scene as a freshman with the Raiders in 2017, leading the team with 10 receiving touchdowns and finishing second on the team with 703 receiving yards on 42 receptions. Three short years later, Williams was one of the most highly-recruited receivers in the nation as he finished his high school career with 3,191 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns on 160 receptions.
As the class of 2021’s top-rated wide receiver per ESPN and the fourth-rated receiver per 247, Williams racked up offers from nearly every major program in the nation before committing to join head coach Lincoln Riley at the University of Oklahoma.
In his true freshman season, Williams hauled in touchdown grabs in his first two contests with the Sooners and totaled 35 receptions for 380 yards and four touchdowns on the year, including a two-catch, 33-yard performance in their 47-32 win over No. 14 Oregon in the 2021 Valero Alamo Bowl.
His strong first season with Oklahoma earned him a spot on ESPN’s true freshman All-American team, but his first season with the Sooners will also likely be his last.
Several offensive players from the Sooners’ roster have opted to enter the transfer portal following Riley’s announcement that he would be leaving Oklahoma to take over as the newest head coach at USC after the 2021 regular season ended, with Williams being the latest player to announce his intentions to transfer on Tuesday.
With seemingly limitless offers coming out of high school and solid production in his first year with a major Power 5 program, Williams will surely have his fair share of potential suitors as he weighs his transfer options in the coming weeks. Williams will be immediately eligible to play in 2022.