Lakeland and Kathleen bring new challenges to the district in the wake of the FHSAA’s latest reshuffling cycle.
The FHSAA reshuffles football districts every two years, and the latest one broke up most of what was Class 7A-District 9 the past two seasons.
Durant, Plant City and Strawberry Crest have been moved to 7A-7 along with Bloomingdale. Tampa Bay Tech and East Bay are now in 7A-8 with Armwood and Wiregrass Ranch. Lennard bumped all the way up to Class 8A and joins Newsome, Haines City, Riverview, Riverview-Sarasota (the Rams, not the Sailors) and Ridge Community in that class’s District 8.
Joining the three Plant City-area schools and the Bulls in 7A-7 is a pair of western Polk County teams: the Lakeland Dreadnaughts and the Kathleen Red Devils.
Lakeland’s reputation as a national powerhouse remained intact after the 2018 season, which couldn’t have gone any better for the Dreadnaughts. They ran the tables and won the 7A state championship with a 33-20 win over St. Thomas Aquinas, which itself is no slouch in the national scene.
Longtime coach Bill Castle is back for 2019 and LHS, per MaxPreps.com, is looking at a top 50 ranking in the country and a top 10 ranking in the state heading into the regular season. Those numbers will likely trend upward as superstar running back Demarckus Bowman does his thing, and Lakeland’s stock could improve further when Lake Wales transfer quarterback Chayil Garnett returns from injury. Plant City will host Lakeland Sept. 13 and Durant on Oct. 11, while Strawberry Crest will travel to Polk on Sept. 27.
Kathleen finished 2018 with a 6-5 record (2-1 district) and made the playoffs in head coach Anthony Troutman’s first year leading the team thanks to a tie-breaking win at Winter Haven. The Red Devils picked up a 13-6 win at Harmony in the first round but ran back into Lakeland in the second round, suffering a 29-6 loss.
The Red Devils weren’t particularly strong in the scoring department last season, save for a 54-8 win against Bartow and a 40-34 win at Lehigh the following week. Kathleen will likely figure things out on the fly on both sides of the ball in 2019 and the first local team to put that to the test is Crest, which will host their Sept. 13 game. Durant will travel to KHS on Sept. 27 and Plant City will host the Red Devils on Oct. 18 to get ready for the following week’s Redman Cup game.
Lakeland and Plant City appear to be the two most likely teams to win a district title, in that order. That’s no shade to Bloomingdale, which put up an 11-2 record in 2018 as Max Warner cemented himself as the most successful coach in program history. But Warner left the program in December to coach quarterbacks at Bowling Green State University, so Jake Coulson was moved up from defensive coordinator to head coach to fill that void. The Bulls have also lost many key performers of the offense and defense to graduation, so another 11-2 season is unlikely. But consistency within the coaching staff plus the return of players such as Dominic Gonnella and Gabriel Jones means the Bulls could still prove to be a tough draw. Durant will host Bloomingdale on Sept. 13, the Raiders will go to BHS on Sept. 27 and the Chargers will take their own road trip to Bloomingdale on Oct. 25.