By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor
As a sports editor for a newspaper dedicated to local high school sports coverage, any time a football team in the coverage area is undefeated, other schools often are overlooked.
In one sense, rightly so, because what the Durant football program has accomplished this year is nothing short of amazing, and its players and coaches deserve as much attention and recognition as possible.
I feel we have done that to this point and certainly plan to cover the Cougars more completely than any other news source for their entire run through the playoffs. But I want to turn focus for a moment to a program on the rise that deserves attention, as well.
I’m talking about the Strawberry Crest football team. Sure, at first glance, a team that went 4-6 may not seem like a story worth telling, but there’s something special happening for the Chargers.
The Chargers won just one game on the field last year and finished with a 2-8 record after Armwood — a team that beat SCHS 80-0 — forfeited all its games. Strawberry Crest was outscored 446-80 last season. This year they actually outscored opponents 280-238.
Talk about a dramatic turnaround.
If you take a look at the rosters of last year’s team compared to this year’s Chargers, you won’t see a huge difference. The quarterback position was the only major change, but that worked out for more than one team — just ask last year’s starter Trey VanDeGrift, now starting for undefeated Durant.
Strawberry Crest’s four wins this year came against Plant City, Steinbrenner, Leto and in the season finale last week against East Bay.
Now, I’ve been around sports a long time, and if there’s one thing I realize, it’s that what-if scenarios don’t carry that much weight in the grand scheme of things. But I think it’s worthy to note some of the close games the Chargers had this year — something that didn’t happen often last season.
The Chargers lost three games this year by just one possession — Bloomingdale, Hillsborough and Jefferson. SCHS was also very much in the game against state powerhouse Armwood, being down by just one score more than halfway through the fourth quarter.
The biggest difference this season has been the new coaching staff headed by John Kelly. Not too much changed on the roster or even with the style of play the Chargers showed, but a big difference was seen in the mentality of the team.
Throughout this season, a culture change occurred at Strawberry Crest. The Chargers have come a long way, since they showed they did not know how to carry themselves in the second half of the season-opener against Plant City. SCHS won that game — a result that sent shockwaves throughout the high school football landscape in Hillsborough County.
The Chargers have made massive strides in the last 11 weeks, and that looks to carry over to bright days to come for this young and growing program.