Justin Kline takes a guess at how local prep football teams will fare this season.
By now, you’ve probably read my preview on your favorite area high school team(s) and the rundown on how the complex new playoff system works. But I know what you’re really thinking: “How are the boys gonna do out there?”
Anything can happen in high school football and I learned long ago that anyone can prove you very, very wrong at any time. It’s always fun to dust off the old crystal ball and give it a shot, though. This year is no exception.
Let’s start with our district first, since there’s one thing that needs addressing right away. Surely you know by now that our district has reshuffled and Lakeland is now a member. The Dreadnaughts cruised to the 7A state championship in 2018 and still have one more year with Demarckus Bowman, who might be the best running back (if not overall offensive player) in the country. Look, I haven’t heard anything about gambling on high school sports becoming legal now. But if it were, Lakeland would be an extremely heavy favorite to win the district and possibly also the favorite to go all the way again. I’m pretty sure Lakeland will win the district and lock up another playoff spot. But, hey, anything can happen and I’ve been wrong before.
Durant’s 2018 was… well, not great. I don’t think anyone would dispute that, but the Cougars ran into a problem that has hurt and will hurt most football programs ever: life after a senior-heavy roster featuring numerous starters and key role players who graduated. The teams fortunate enough to have sustained success year after year even after turnover like that are outliers created by luck or recruiting — or both, but whatever — and it’s not fair to compare yourself to that unless you are an outlier team.
The Cougars do have a bit more experience in certain areas, including quarterback, but this still strikes me as a team working on building itself back up to the level it was on in 2016 and 2017. I think the potential to finish with a better record than last season’s 3-7 mark is very much there, though.
In my opinion, the team with the best chance of scoring an upset win in district play is Plant City. The Raiders got another taste of playoff action last season and I know those boys are hungry to get back and do better than last time. Fortunately for that team, it’s pretty well-off in the right areas: the coaching’s legit, the schemes work, the talent pool is deep and the attitude is right. It also helps that Plant City has Lakeland at 1 Raider Place this season.
As nice as I just made all that sound, though, it’s still probably going to be the hardest test Plant City will have all season and there’s no guarantee the Raiders will win. Should they lose the game and not get a district title, they’ll have to rely on the new system to make it back to the playoffs. They have a brutal schedule and are working with a new quarterback who does not have the same play style as Guy Toph winner and recent graduate Braxton Plunk. If Makenzie Kennedy can get comfortable in the offense in real-life game action and the defense can recover from losing one of the best linebacker groups in Florida to college football, I think they’ll get to play November football again. And the Redman Cup? Back to 1 Raider Place after the Oct. 25 rivalry game, most likely.
Man, oh man. No one wants to have to replace a head coach in the middle of summer, so you almost have to feel bad for Strawberry Crest there. Now, I’m not here to take Ron Hawn to task for his decision to retire from coaching super late in the offseason. He’s allowed to make his own decisions and if he did what he felt was the best thing for him and his family, so be it. But you can’t just ignore it when something like that happens to a team, either.
I have to give props to the Chargers for staying upbeat, at least when talking to me. Phillip Prior seems to be keeping a level head and focusing on the positives, which rubs off on the rest of a program. The players I’ve talked to said they just want to do the best they can and support the new coach as he grows into his new program.
There are definitely winnable games on this schedule, at least on paper (again, you never know). But Crest is a team that still had much to improve upon after last season and just got a new head coach a few seconds ago. I’m not sure the final record will see much, if any, improvement from 2018. This season will most likely be filed under “Learning Experiences” and regardless of what happens on the field now, I’ll be curious to see how Prior and the Chargers handle next season — when time will finally be on their side. Rome wasn’t built in one football season, you know.