By Matt Mauney | Associate Editor
While college and professional sports are often referenced for having “coaching carousels,” high school sports have player carousels.
Although rules sometimes are bent and recruiting sometimes takes place in the high school football mecca that is the state of Florida, most schools are challenged with making the best with the players they have and to mold and shape those players to be successful not just the current season, but for years to come.
Unlike college, a high school can’t always replace Division I talent with equal, if not, better talent once a player graduates. Depth charts and resources are much thinner.
Every now and then, a high school team strikes it rich with a group of talented juniors and/or seniors that climb the ranks together and put together a memorable season.
This was the case last year for the Plant City Raiders. The team was filled with Division I talent, including quarterback Bennie Coney (Cincinnati), running back Daz’mond Patterson (Ohio) and wideout Lamarlin Wiggins, a JUCO commit with South Florida.
Altogether, the Raiders lost 22 seniors to graduation. I don’t care what kind of talent pool from which you pull, that one is hard to overcome.
So far, the adjustment of not having that group has led to a 3-4 record and a 1-2 record in Class 7A District 8. With that departed group, Plant City was 7-0 at this stage a year ago, but it should be noted that they finished the year on a three-game skid and missed the state playoffs.
Arch rival Durant — a team the Raiders beat 43-12 last season — ended up winning the district title, while Brandon took runner-up honors, and both schools fell in the first round.
Plant City will face a Brandon team this year that also has struggled. The Eagles picked up their first win of the 2012 season last week against Riverview.
With Plant City all but mathematically out of the playoff discussion, this game will be more about pride and building for the future — a future that looks bright for the Raiders.
Describing this year’s Plant City team as young is an understatement. This Raiders group has 12 underclassmen (freshmen or sophomores) on the roster, and a healthy group of juniors and seniors that saw limited to no varsity action last year.
Many of those newcomers have been leaders for the Raiders. Until suffering a knee injury, freshman running back Ervin Micheal was a force in the backfield. He still leads the team with 427 yards, despite missing the last three games.
Freshman Tavares Chase leads all Raiders receivers, with 388 yards on just 15 catches. Chase has emerged as a weapon for the Plant City offense and looks to be a solid deep threat moving into the future.
Junior wideout Landon Galloway, one of the few returning standouts on the offensive side of the ball, has 308 yards on 27 catches and no receiving touchdowns. But, he has three more games and his entire senior season ahead of him.
Defensively, Plant City’s two leading tacklers are juniors. Dylan Johnson, who was on the junior varsity team last season, now has 50 tackles, three sacks, an interception and four fumble recoveries on varsity.
Matt Chaney currently leads the team with 55 tackles. He only had 16 as a sophomore on varsity.
There is plenty of talent on Plant City’s roster. Youth and injuries will often reflect in season standings, but looking deeper than that, the Raiders look to be in good position in a year or two to have not only another large group of juniors and seniors but also another experienced group.
Losing 22 seniors is rough. The Raiders are seeing those effects, but all signs point to good things in seasons to come.