Coach: Wayne Ward (fifth season, 25-17)
Last season: 8-3
Colors: Aqua, orange and white
Stadium: Raider Stadium, One Raider Place, Plant City
Playoff history: 1975, 1998, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013
Last appearance: Lost 17-10 to Sickles.
Aug. 29 vs. Steinbrenner, 7:30
Sept. 5 at Wharton, 7:30
Sept. 19 at Durant, 7:30
Sept. 26 vs. Bloomingdale, 7:30
Oct. 2 vs. East Bay, 7
Oct. 10 at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30
Oct. 17 vs. Spoto, 7:30
Oct. 24 at Strawberry Crest, 7:30
Oct. 31 vs. Brandon, 7:30
Nov. 7 at Gaither, 7:30
Mark your calendar
Plant City vs. East Bay, Oct. 2: Plant City was 4-0 last season when it traveled to take on the Indians, but East Bay, despite completing only three passes in regulation, won in overtime on a 23-yard touchdown pass, snapping the Raiders’ win streak. This season, assistant coach Greg Meyer said his team can’t wait to get another crack at its district rival. Plant City and East Bay have the potential to be the top teams in the district again, so aside from being a rivalry matchup, the game could essentially decide who will take the crown.
Key transfer: The big news for the Raiders this offseason was the acquisition of Austin Carswell from Strawberry Crest. Carswell, who transferred in January, quarterbacked the Chargers and threw for 930 yards and 13 touchdowns. But that’s not all he can do. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound athlete also lines up at wide receiver and defensive back.
Quarterback competition: The Raiders planned to play Carswell at quarterback in the spring game against Armwood, but he was determined to be ineligible until the fall because of the transfer. The Raiders started sophomore Corey King instead and liked what they saw. Meyer said King will start the Raiders’ first game under center, but that Carswell, who will likely start at wide receiver and defensive back Week 1, could also compete for the job.
Taking the place of Chase: Four-star wide receiver TJ Chase has Division I offers from just about everyone and could have been a big weapon for the Raiders, but Chase decided to take his talents to Bradenton’s IMG Academy. But with wide receivers like Carswell, Markese Hargrove and converted basketball player Deondre Gatlin at wide receiver, Meyer thinks the Raiders will be just fine. “They understand the opportunity with him being gone,” Meyer said. “I’m sure if you asked any of them, they’d love to be the guy.”
Filling holes: The Raiders graduated 16 seniors, including several Division I signees. Despite the great loss of talent, though, Meyer isn’t worried about finding replacements to fill their shoes. Defensively, he admits, the Raiders are young up front, but a strong linebacker corp led by veteran Sawyer Dawson will be a big help.
Senior class: The Raiders will feature far fewer seniors than in 2013, but Meyer said he’s been impressed by the new unit’s leadership abilities — a factor that could help Plant City be a contender for a district title. “These seniors came in and really ran practice in a way really no other senior class has done until this point,” Meyer said. “We just kind of put it on them to run the show, and they’re stepping up.”
ATH Austin Carswell, Sr.: Meyer can’t discuss the new Raider without speaking about his versatility, something that could help out Plant City immensely this season. Carswell had just two receptions last season for the Chargers, one of them being a 23-yarder, but his athleticism combined with the promise he’s shown in practice leads the coaching staff to believe he could be successful wherever he lines up.
LB Sawyer Dawson, Sr.: Dawson led the Raiders with 87 tackles, 12 for loss last season, and will be back to lead a linebacker corp Meyer said should be the highlight of the defense. Dawson, a Purdue commit, also had two sacks, three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal in 2013.
RB Sterling Day, Jr.: Coming off a season in which he had 514 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, Day is the Raiders’ leading returning rusher. Day won’t be the only one carrying the ball for the Raiders, but the 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back could very likely lead the way.
ATH Markese Hargrove, Jr.: Described as “Mr. Consistency,” Hargrove had 270 yards receiving and one touchdown while rushing for 164 more. Now that Hargrove — who had four receptions for 31 yards in a spring game loss to Armwood — is an upperclassman with a leadership role, Meyer is counting on him to deliver a whole lot more, and
OL Evan Crowell, Sr.: Crowell, who missed six games in 2013 because of a hamstring injury, played defensive end and guard last year, but the 6-foot-2, 280-pound linemen has been moved to center this year, a role in which Meyer thinks the Crowell will shine.
QB Corey King, So.: The Raiders’ next starting quarterback might only be a sophomore, but Meyer said you’d never know it by the way King carries himself on the field. The wise-beyond-his-years QB finished 9-of-12 for 72 yards and an interception in the spring game, and though he’ll continue to face competition for the starting job, Meyer is confident that, at least for game one, King is the guy.
LB Kwest Fluitt, Jr.: Last year, Fluitt was unable to play for the Raiders because he didn’t have the grades, but Meyer said Fluitt has worked hard on his studies to earn back his eligibility. That hard work has been mirrored on the football field. Meyer thinks Fluitt, who he says has the perfect combination of size and speed, could have a big year as part of a linebackers group rich with talent.
DB Peyton Collins, Jr.: A starter at free safety last season, Collins had some big plays, including an interception in the red zone on the final play of regulation against East Bay to force overtime. Since then, the offseason has been good to Collins, and Meyer said he’s already witnessed a stronger, more confident athlete.
DB/WR Javaris Whitsett, Sr.: Whitsett had 25 tackles last season, but now that standout defensive back and Temple signee Jyquis Thomas has graduated, Meyer said Whitsett has stepped up to lead the secondary. That’s a job that includes guarding some of Tampa Bay’s best receivers, which this season will include Wharton’s Auden Tate and Steinbrenner’s Kezio Snelling.
WR Antoine Thompson, So.: One of many who will pitch in to replace Chase, Thompson could be big for the Raiders on offense. Meyer said the 6-foot, 165-pound receiver has had a great summer, which included flourishing at a Florida Tech camp, after which he received his first college offer from the Panthers.
“Our goal is to win a district title, and we feel like we’ve got a great shot at that. Even with the loss of the seniors, even with TJ leaving, we’ve gotten stronger. It’s almost been addition by subtraction.” — Meyer