Saturday, May 26, 2018
Sports

Durant flies under the radar, but plans to keep flying

PLANT CITY — It's hard to be 10-0 and still relatively unnoticed, but the Durant High football team has pulled it off — outside of East Hillsborough, that is.

"Slowly we're getting more respect," said Durant head coach Mike Gottman, emphasis on the first word. Gottman's team just finished its first undefeated regular season, and some feel is geared for a deep playoff run.

And yet the Cougars aren't getting as much postseason consideration as Plant, Robinson or Hillsborough.

"We're not studded-out like some of the (Tampa) schools," Gottman said. "We don't have that big Division 1 prospect. But being under the radar a little is fine with me."

Under the radar? Maybe. Undermanned? Not at all. Durant's dual running attack of Jamarlon Hamilton (1,089 yards) and Chris Atkins (731 yards) provides reliable production, while quarterback Ty VanDeGrift (716 yards passing) lends a steady hand when called upon to throw the ball. He has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes.

Throw in a stingy defense (84 points allowed in 10 games) and you have the makings of a team that can earn respect with a big postseason run.

If the Cougars can string a couple of playoff victories together, they'll be on everyone's radar. But for now, Gottman will be happy with just taking care of a challenging Tampa Bay Tech team.

The Titans (7-3) were favored to win District 7A-7 but faltered in the final week of league play, losing 35-32 to Gaither. It was actually down 35-10 before managing to get down to the 5-yard line with a chance to at least force overtime.

But TBT fumbled and the settled for district runner-up status.

Titans sophomore quarterback Deon Cain (1,383 yards passing) has led the Titans away from their run-oriented offense and is averaging a fairly lofty 20 attempts per game. Cain threw it 41 times in the Gaither game.

The Titans' Richard Benjamin holds the rare spot of leading the team in rushing (666) and receiving (286) yards. Another senior, Deon Thompson, has right around 500 yards on the ground.

"They're very talented, I think our guys have a good understanding of that," Gottman said. "We're not overlooking this game at all. Message number one this week was, putting the 10-0 season behind you and focusing on this game. It's all about practicing and preparing."

One note from recent history should help get the Cougars on alert. The Titans had never won a playoff game in the school's existence before breaking through 2008, but in that year and each playoff since has won its first-round contest (before losing in the next round).

Durant athletic director Todd Long, who knows a little about leading a talented team into the playoffs from his days at Plant City High, likes the Cougars' approach.

"We've got some good athletes but, this is really a blue-collar team," Long said. "Not blessed with a lot of natural talent. They had to work hard to get to where they are."

Gottman credited his team's senior leaders — Patrick Frazier and Alex Wood on offense, Zach Hoffman, Chris Smith and Randy Baker on defense — for keeping the troops from looking past the Titans.

And while Gottman wouldn't bring up something like this to his team, here's something Cougar supporters will want to keep in mind: Durant, if it keeps winning, could very easily have home field advantage right up until the state finals.

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