PLANT CITY — The remodeling of the Plant City football program began a few days before the first day of fall practice this week, when new coach Jason Strunk called his players into the locker room.
When Strunk, a former Division III college assistant at Muhlenberg (Pa.), first stepped in the Raiders' locker room this spring, he couldn't believe what he saw: cluttered lockers, jerseys balled up on the floor and a messy coach's office.
For a city that proclaims itself "Home of the Raiders" from high on the water tower as you enter town, the new coach didn't see anything to be proud of.
"Everybody talked about how much pride there is in Plant City," Strunk said. "And from what I saw, the pride left here a long time ago."
So over a two-day stretch, players cleaned the locker room and painted the walls. The words "Raider Pride" are across one wall. Nearby is the list of team captains. As you walk inside, it reads "Our Way." The next step in is the team's "Wall of Revenge," a list of teams that beat Plant City in years past. The names will come down when the Raiders beat them, Strunk said.
The stadium field was resodded this month. A new helmet logo and new uniforms will add to the new look.
If anything, Strunk — who brings his blue-collar mentality from his northeastern Pennsylvania roots — wanted to have his players work hard for something. And the locker room makeover was the first step in changing the attitude of a program stuck in neutral after back-to-back 5-5 regular seasons and first-round playoff exits under Kevin Kelley.
"He's come in here and laid down the law," senior starting quarterback Clint Stearns said of Strunk. "I think it first hit us when somebody did something wrong, then he jumped on our case. Then we knew he was the real deal."
When was that?
"The first day when we didn't clean the locker room," Stearns said.
On the first day of practice in full pads Friday, players saw their new coach in action. By the end of practice, Strunk had nearly lost his voice from yelling. He was hands-on, moving from station to station. He didn't shy away from getting in his players' faces.
"Drive through him!" he yelled, veins popping out of his neck, at a defender who didn't complete a tackle during drills. "If you're not going to do it right, get out of here."
"On every play, there's someone doing something right and someone doing something wrong," a calmer Strunk explained later. "That's how I am. That's how I think football should be played, but I'm also there to encourage them."
Though early, older players have noticed a difference in atmosphere.
"It's more intense," said senior defensive end Denzel Drone. "There's more attitude."
And more discipline.
"That's one thing we're really working on," Stearns said. "And that's going to be helping us become better players and better men."