ST. PETERSBURG ― When asked about about his team prior to the season, Lakewood High coach Cory Moore shook his head, gave a wry smile and said “Man, we’re gonna be good."
Three months later, Moore was proven right. The Spartans are 10-0 for only the second time in school history. They are the top seed in Class 4A, Region 3. The quest for a first-ever state title begins Friday night against No. 5 Clewiston.
Optimism has rarely been higher. The main reason for that is a defense that dominated all season. Lakewood allowed 6.7 points per game and recorded six shutouts. The unit did not allow a touchdown in seven games (Largo scored three points).
They’ve even given themselves a nickname: The Duke Energy Boys.
“They turn people’s lights off," Moore said.
There are playmakers all over the field. Safety Aumhryaun Brown has a team-high 74 tackles. Andarius Wilson shuts down the run as the nose guard. Defensive end Earvin Ealy has four sacks.
And it didn’t hurt getting defensive end Tre’von Riggins back. Riggins returned to Lakewood in the spring after two years at IMG Academy. He brought a no-nonsense approach that has rubbed off on teammates.
At 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, the Miami commit has been a nightmare for offensive linemen.
“I take it very seriously," Riggins said. “It’s the playoffs, lose one game and you’re home. My whole thing is to take every practice seriously. Take it day by day. ‘What am I going to do today?’ There is always somebody out there who is trying to outwork you."
That work ethic, he said, came from his father. Thomas W. Riggins III was a resource officer for troubled youths before he died in March. He wanted to dedicate this season to his father.
“When my dad was growing up he didn’t have anyone to show him the right direction," Riggins said. “He wanted to do that for kids. He set an example for a lot of kids.
“I know he’s proud. I just tried to lead by example. He liked people to do the right things and that’s what I want."
Fellow Miami commit Cortez McKenzie, a year younger than Riggins, sees his future college teammate as a leader. He knows they are different people, and he respects that.
“I’m the goofy, playful type," McKenzie said. “He’s the serious type. No joking. I try to joke with him sometimes, but never on the field."
McKenzie, who played for Lakewood as a sophomore before transferring to Superior Collegiate when he was suspended for six weeks due to a post-game fight, has been back since the spring. He has been another big part of the defensive turnaround. He has a team-high 12 sacks and an interception.
“Just playing my game, being Cortez," he said. “That’s what I do best. I would’ve had more (sacks). I had to sit out the first half of two games."
And then there is junior middle linebacker Derrveron Maxwell-Black, who likes to be called Bobby, which was his grandfather’s name. He is in his second year as a starter. Moore calls him the quarterback of the defense.
“He gets everybody where they are supposed to be," Moore said.
Maxwell-Black has four sacks and 64 total tackles. He said there is a big difference between this year’s defense and last year’s, and it has nothing to do with physical play.
“This year we’ve got a lot of communication going on. We do way better with communication," Maxwell-Black said. “The team makes me a better player. We’re all like brothers."
Moore has a different description for his defensive unit.
“They are dogs," he said.
Contact Rodney Page at email@example.com. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.
High school football region semifinals
All games 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Class 2A, Region 3
• No. 3 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Northside Christian
• No. 4 Admiral Farragut at No. 1 Cambridge Christian
Class 3A, Region 3
• No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic at No. 1 Berkeley Prep
Class 4A, Region 3
• No. 4 Clewiston at No. 1 Lakewood
• No. 3 Tampa Catholic at No. 2 Delray Beach American Heritage
Class 5A, Region 3
• No. 8 Chamberlain at No. 4 Jesuit
Class 5A, Region 2
• No. 4 Nature Coast at No. 1 Orlando Jones
Class 6A, Region 2
• No. 5 Clearwater at No. 1 Gaither
• No. 3 Lake Minneola at No. 2 Largo
Class 7A, Region 3
• No. 3 Manatee at No. 2 Mitchell
Class 7A, Region 2
• No. 5 Bloomingdale at No. 1 Armwood
• No. 6 Tampa Bay Tech at No. 2 Lakeland
Class 8A, Region 2
• No. 4 Steinbrenner at No. 1 Sarasota Riverview