I’m still pretty new around here, but it’s always great to see people get so excited for a rivalry game.
Especially one as meaningful as Friday night’s matchup between Plant City and Strawberry Crest. You could spin this one in a number of different ways, and it’s still a compelling game every time.
It’s the oldest program in the area versus the newest one. Plant City High School has been around since 1914; Strawberry Crest wasn’t founded until nearly a century later. These teams have only been writing their history against each other for a few years now, so we’re due for some classics at some point.
It’s the perennially talented team versus the up-and-comers from the outskirts. College scouts are no strangers to 1 Raider Place, and they haven’t been for a while. Virginia Tech noticed head coach Wayne Ward in the mid-1990s and came calling, just as Alabama had noticed Montel McBride prior to this season. Crest, on the other hand, is looking to build a more renowned program and get their kids more national exposure.
It’s a battle between two of the top teams in the district that has an impact beyond themselves. A Chargers win would help keep Durant alive in the playoff hunt, but a Raiders win knocks them out immediately. It may be one of the only times you hear the Durant faithful rooting for Crest.
This one has Game of the Year potential written all over it, and I suspect this won’t be the only year in which that’s the case.
All the hype reminds me of one of my previous beats in Southwest Florida, when I covered high school football in the Naples area.
Not that everyone down there was particularly great at football, but there was always one matchup that you could count on to be consistently great: Naples versus Immokalee.
That one always got all the hype it deserved, and for good reason. If you were going, you were guaranteed everything that comes with a good football game: two talented teams willing to play as hard as they could, a couple of energized, passionate fanbases, and lots of touchdowns.
The story lines weren’t exactly the same as what we have for Crest at Plant City, because the schools have had much more history facing each other. My memories are coming to the front of my brain as a result of you, the fans, getting as excited as they do down there when the Golden Eagles square off against the Indians.
Though, I do suppose there are some similarities.
For starters, Immokalee owes much of its success in recent years to its monstrous O-line. On top of being the backbone of the team for the past few seasons, the line also has been at the forefront of college recruiters’ minds.
For example, the star of this line when I was around was Deadrin Senat, who was very much reminiscent of Plant City’s own Montel McBride. He was an absolute mountain of a young man, strong enough to handle members of the opposing defensive — or, sometimes the offensive — line in the same way an 11-year-old would play with an action figure.
Senat drew interest from a number of D-I schools, most notably Florida State, but committed to the University of South Florida for the 2013-14 season. It’s no Alabama, but it’ll certainly do.
The Naples program, on the other hand, saw its luck turn around 15 seasons ago, with the arrival of coach Bill Kramer. The Golden Eagles have had a number of talented players suit up over the years, such as current Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, but arguably the biggest reason for the team’s success is the head coach himself.
Kramer may be the MacGyver of Southwest Florida football coaches: If there’s a way to win any game, he would have it figured out before halftime. And they usually did win. Most notably, the Golden Eagles were the only team in recent memory that has consistently had Immokalee’s number. Kramer got the job in 1998, promptly won a state title in 2001 and did it again in 2007. Now, that’s getting a good return on investment.
It’s too early to predict what kind of success the Chargers will have in the near future, but it’s not too early to say that coach John Kelly has really found a way to turn this program around in his two seasons.
I don’t know that this will be a high-scoring contest, like those Naples-Immokalee games usually are, but I have a feeling that this will be just as watchable.