Plant City football coach Jason Strunk is leaving to become an offensive quality control coach at Purdue.
In two seasons coaching the Raiders, Strunk turned Plant City into a playoff team and one of Eastern Hillsborough County's rising programs.
But Strunk said he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to coach Division I college football.
“It’s too much to pass up at this point,” Strunk said Monday. “The salary is very competitive to what I make here as a teacher and coach in Hillsborough County. The benefits are great. My master’s degree is paid for, we already have a house up there. They’ve got everything taken care of for us. It’s way too much to give up.”
Strunk said offensive coordinator Wayne Ward, a former Plant City standout who went on to play at Virginia Tech, will take over the reins of the program as interim head coach.
The Raiders were 7-4 last season, advancing to the Class 5A region quarterfinals.
"Me and Strunk, we were one," said Ward, a 1997 Plant City grad. "He set a precedent here at the school. From working with him, I got to learn what it takes to have a successful program."
Strunk said the opportunity came about quickly, that Purdue called 10 days ago about the position. An offer followed last Wednesday. He told his team this morning after the Raiders returned from a camp at Auburn this weekend.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the classroom.,” Strunk said. “It was pretty emotional. In two years we came a long way. From the time since I first got here, it’s a completely different program. That’s why it was important for Wayne Ward to take over. He's been with me through everything."
The Raiders are poised to have a breakout year this fall, with rising juniors Bennie Coney at quarterback and Dazmond Patterson, the county's second leading rusher last year, at running back. Rising senior Jordan Prestwood, one of the county's top recruits, has already committed to Notre Dame and is moving from tight end to offensive tackle this fall.
"It makes me feel at peace that I left the program in a lot better shape than when I arrived,” Strunk said. “Now my best friend is taking over.”
Strunk came to Plant City before the 2008 season from Division III Muhlenberg (Penn.) College, where he coached linebackers.
He said the timing was critical in taking the position with the Boilermakers. A new NCAA rule allows just 10 years after a coach gets his bachelor's degree to take a grad assistant or quality control position. "If I don't take it now, I only have three years left," Strunk said.
Strunk will start his job at Purdue Wednesday at noon.