PLANT CITY — Every time the flag football teams from Plant City and Durant meet up, something seems to be on the line.
Often it's a district championship.
And so far the Raiders have the upper hand. Durant head coach Brad Brunson has a name for this.
"We've got to get over the Plant City Hump," says Brunson, whose team seems prepared to do just that.
The flag football season kicks off Tuesday, and Durant looks primed to put a dent in the Raiders' reign.
Six seasons ago, the first for flag football programs in Hillsborough County, Durant ousted the Raiders. But the last two times they've met for the district title, it's been Plant City's game, including last year.
Durant hopes for a change this year.
"We graduated 12 seniors, and they have everybody back," Plant City coach Larry Langston said. "They're gonna be tough."
Talented quarterback Jessica McClernan returns for a Cougar offense that averaged 42 points per game in a 9-2 season. Ashley Piechowiak was a two-way standout as a ninth-grader, and TE/LB Chelsea Barcena also will play both ways.
Brunson says compared to most teams, which are trying to get a feel for where their best talent should line up in the first couple of games, Durant is practically set. Besides having everyone back, the Cougars were able to play in some AAU tournaments this offseason.
And they've been keeping up on their skills.
"Last year we stressed speed. This year it's been about hands," Brunson said. "Throw the ball with your dad. Throw the ball with your boyfriend, whatever. And we've kept up the speed part."
Durant has its open date Tuesday so the Cougars kick off Thursday at Tampa Bay Tech.
Plant City hosts East Bay to start the season Tuesday. The Raiders will break in Avery Brown at quarterback after she stood out as a freshman receiver. The team will be sharing three with the softball team: Kacie Booth, Shae Coughlin and Kristen Wyckoff. Unfortunately for the Raiders they will miss two games due to softball conflicts, one against Durant on April 11.
Langston expects seniors Shay Wright and Ali Grimmel to lead.
Strawberry Crest visits Raider Stadium on Thursday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The Chargers have a new offensive coordinator in Isaac Anderson, who happens to hold that same role for the boys football team.
Head coach Andre Lewis was pretty excited over his team's performance in a preseason tournament last weekend, losing twice but hanging close against Bloomingdale and East Bay.
"We only have seven returners, and that's combined from varsity and JV," Lewis said. "I think our defense is going to carry us."
Lewis said several players didn't come back because they wanted to focus on other sports. Brunson had a similar situation with track standout Lanay Dunbar choosing to stick with that endeavor even though the schedule offers a chance for girls to play both.
"We play (mostly) Monday and Thursday, so it's possible to do both track and football," he said. "But it becomes too demanding. I tell my girls if you can get a scholarship in track, do track.
"Right now flag football is for fun."
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]