PLANT CITY — James Booth has coached football teams loaded with four and five-star athletes, and teams loaded with no-star athletes.
He has stepped into a program that had one winning season in its entire 20-plus year history, and stepped into another program with one of the greatest winning traditions in the country.
He has also helped build a program with relatively no expectations, then helped managed a program that every year had state-title aspirations.
He experienced all of the aforementioned as an assistant, first at Palmetto High from 2006-09, then under his head-coaching twin, John Booth, at Bloomingdale (2009-14) and at Bradenton Manatee (2014-16).
Now at the age of 34, he is taking on the challenges as a head coach at a completely new place, Plant City, and he said he feels about as prepared as he could possibly be.
"I've been right there to witness the good, the not-so-great and everything in between," Booth said. "I've learned how tough it is to go 0-10 (first year at Bloomingdale), and how to motivate a kid when you are 0-9 and there is another game to play.
"How do you handle the parents when you are 0-7 and they are wondering why their kid isn't playing even though you aren't winning? How do you deal with college recruiters when you have a lot of tremendous talent on your team? I think I've pretty much seen the whole spectrum."
That's why, Booth said, he makes a point to coach "the why."
"I want the kids to not just do things because we said to do it, but I want them to understand why we were are doing it," Booth said. "When they understand 'the why,' then everything gets better for everybody."
Ultimately, Booth — who played with his brother at Manatee in the late 1990s under legendary coach Joe Kinnan and moved on with his brother to play at Mid-America Nazarene University in Kansas — wants to develop a consistent winner at Plant City, a place that always appealed to him from a distance.
"The community support here already has been tremendous," Booth said. "There were other jobs open but this is the one that appealed to me. I really had no intention of leaving Manatee, but this job was just too good to pass up."
His first week of spring practice had a few expected logistical bumps, but overall he remains exceedingly optimistic.
"We have a young team (see four freshman running backs)," said Booth, who will commute from Bradenton through the end of the year before he moves with his wife and two kids to Plant City. "But these are my guys and we are going to work together, and I believe we will have great success sooner than later."
The first pressing order of business comes May 18 in a spring jamboree when the Raiders play a loaded Armwood team that is among the favorites to win a state title.
"We will come in and do what we can against Armwood," Booth said. "We will learn from it and get better."
Booth said his brother, John, who stepped away this year from Manatee to pursue a career in business finance, may help from time to time at Plant City — but for the moment, the brothers will basically be separated.
"All I know is that I feel great about all of this," said Booth, who will also teach social studies. "I think this could turn into something really great."