MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll pose and answer a question a day about the upcoming football season. Have a topic you think needs to be addressed? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With its bevy of Division I-A talent, is this the year Plant City breaks through and topples Newsome for a district title?
Why do we ask? The resurgence of the Plant City football program has been one of the top stories in eastern Hillsborough County over the past two years. Former coach Jason Strunk turned the program around in 2009 with a 7-3 season, and former Raiders standout Wayne Ward did the same in his first year as coach. And the Raiders would probably even agree that they’ve left some wins on the field in that span, including a pair to Newsome that were the team’s only district losses the past two years. But with a talented group of seniors loaded with Division I talent — QB Bennie Coney (Cincinnati commit), WR Lamarlin Wiggins (USF), RB Dazmond Patterson, DB Sam Green and LB Jalen Butler — the Raiders have the horses to win a district title this season. Can potential finally turn into wins for this senior class?
What they’re saying
Patterson: “We’ve done a lot of stuff together. We’ve gone on trips together and I feel like those things will actually help us come together and actually play as a team. I think we feel like we had a bunch of individual great athletes but now we’ll put it together and make a good team.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys coming back. We’ve got six or seven D-I recruits. We should be pretty good. I’ve got faith in our O-line. I think they’re going to do well. I can’t wait for Monday (the first day of fall practice).”
Ward: “We have to play as a team as a whole. We have to have one heartbeat. Unity is going to be the key to our success. If we come out and play together, we have a real good possibility of having a really good year. If not, we’ll just be an average team with a lot of athletes.”
What we’re saying
Eduardo A. Encina: Full disclosure: I’m big on the Raiders this year, so much so that this might sound like I’m typing in aqua and orange.
I’m a believer in Ward and his tough-love coaching style. I think Patterson is one of the best all-around backs in the county, and when it’s all said and done he will be courted by BCS programs. Coney is an immense talent, but he needs to stay on the field and show the leadership that sets great quarterbacks apart. Plant City’s defense will be stellar, and everyone will be talking about Green by midseason.
If the graduation-depleted offensive line can rebuild, the sky is the limit. The Newsome game is the Raiders’ to win since the Wolves have to replace several key pieces, leading rusher Conner Powers among them. A win over Hillsborough in the preseason game will be a huge springboard, because they will face some early adversity.
But the key to the season will be dominating the turnover battle. Despite 23 takeaways, the Raiders were only a plus-two last season and threw 14 interceptions.
Joey Knight: When the Raiders give me reason to believe, I will.
For all of its talent — and it’s the county’s best east of Interstate 75 — this incoming senior class has yet to capture that signature win that can propel a program to the next level.
In the past two seasons, Plant City has won two games against teams that finished with a winning record — and both were against Durant. Hence the reason that Aug. 26 game against Hillsborough — preseason in name only — is so critical.
The Raiders must enter that contest with a chip on their collective shoulder pads and prove to skeptics (such as myself) they belong in the area’s upper echelon.
If they top the Terriers, I see no reason the Raiders can’t run the regular season table. If they lose, I see them again fighting Durant and Newsome for their postseason lives.
Also in this series: