The whistle you hear in the distance must mean the heat is on once more. Yes, high school football practice has already begun. Looking for the nation’s best? Think Florida. We’ve known for years that no state consistently puts the nation’s best football forward like we do in The Sunshine State.
Rewind back eight months and you’re certain to recall that 2005 was one of the most exciting periods in Florida high school history. That was especially true for the residents of Polk and St. John’s counties. It was a very special year, indeed.
The mere mention of the word Dreadnaughts, Yellow Jackets, Panthers, Chargers, or Miners evoked entire conversations around the old water cooler, costing the company valuable production time and getting a second glance form the boss. When Tebow, Rickerson, James, Kirschman, Ellis, Haynes were mentioned- a whole new conversation began.
Nease High School quarterback Tim Tebow reached legendary status before the fourth game of the season. Tebow got more hits on internet search engines than Muhammad Ali in rope-a-dope. Jacques Rickerson, Brandon James, Charlie Kirschman, Ryan Ellis, Hunter Haynes were among several other accomplished seniors who ruled St. John’s County and the state in their respective classifications.
Both St. Augustine and Nease made history as they brought state championships home to The First Coast. Furthermore, the manner in which they did so left a lasting impression on everybody sports fan in northeast Florida. It was the first time either school had ever won a state title.
In Polk County, state titles are as common as sweat during two-a-days. Governor Jeb Bush should have considered sending some of the states’ unemployed citizens to Lakeland where they could have made a pirates ransom selling Dreadnaughts merchandise.
Last year, two of the most highly anticipated games in the country involved these teams- Nease versus St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas against Lakeland for all of the marbles in Miami. Only St. Thomas Aquinas failed to win a state title- and if it weren’t for the Dreadnaughts they too would have been crowned in any other given year.
Many of the very names who were so often mentioned return to the high school gridiron. Yes, Rainey, Brown, Pouncey, Black, Wilson, Cooper, Sturgis will once again lead their teams to toward the playoffs and make the state of Florida proud in the process.
Lakeland High School
Did Arnold Schwarzenegger return from the future and make a wrong turn in Albuquerque like that loveable cartoon rabbit Bugs Bunny? If any team has more closely followed the script of “The Terminator” it was the Lakeland High School Dreadnaughts. They haven’t lost since 2003. The Dreadnaughts have destroyed everybody they have been scheduled to play, and that’s all you can ask of any team. So what is this- “Terminator III- Absolute Destruction”?
The rally cry from Lakeland is very simple…”I’ll be Back…Again and Again and Again!”
Lakeland High School ran the table for the second straight year and was crowned as the National Champions. It’s a mythical title of course, but you’d have been hard pressed to find a team that wouldn’t dread playing this bunch. They’ve won thirty in a row.
This season the team returns largely intact.. That’s not just scary. That’s stupid scary. What does it say about a high school when there are very few players who aren’t being pursued by colleges and universities?
Since the 2000 season, legendary Lakeland head coach Bill Castle and his navy has turned in a very respectable 67-9 record. Winning 88% of your games and capturing four district championships over a six year stretch in high school sports is phenomenal.
If I had one wish for Florida high school football in 2005- it would have been to see Lakeland play St. Augustine. I don’t care if it had been on a sand lot off I-75. It would have been fun.
That said, my wish is coming true-sort of. With six players (Rainey, Black, a pair of Pouncey’s, Wilks, and Wilson) committed from Lakeland High School and Rickerson and James from St. Augustine High School currently enrolled at the University of Florida- a trip to Gainesville is all you’ll need to make it happen. And we can call it practice!!
Toss in fellow St. John’s County champion Tim Tebow for kicks. And who knows, we just might add John Brown to the mix to chase Tebow and Rainey.
St. Augustine High School
The Yellow Jackets also ran the table with a 15-0 record. They outscored their opponents 478-134. Averaging 32-9 per victory, including a five game playoff schedule is impressive. The Jackets did so with an offense that will return much of the same lineup that got them to Dolphins Stadium and home with the hardware.
St. Augustine blew out Sarasota Booker 31-15 in that state title game. Heck, it wasn’t even that close. For goodness sakes, Booker didn’t score until the fourth quarter- when the Yellow Jackets had the game well in hand 24-0.
Over the past six seasons, coach Joey Wiles and the Jackets have stung opponents for an overall record of 66-10. Yep, one short of the Dreadnaughts overall mark. The Jackets have won 86% of their games. Wiles was named the Florida Dairy Farmers Coach of the Year in 2005. And the Yellow Jackets are going to once again be a major player in determining the state title.
St. Augustine has captured five district titles, ending three seasons in the state semi-finals and one in the state title game before whacking Booker for their first.
The Yellow Jackets too are loaded in 2005. Back to defend their state championship are running back Rai-shawn Wilson, quarterback Quinterrance Cooper, and playmaker Kevis Streeter. Caleb Sturgis is the best junior kicker in the state. The defensive front is back and they should have no problems at linebacker either.
We haven’t even touched on head coach Craig Howard of Nease, who has posted a 23-4 record in two years with Tebow under center. Many will be watching to see if the Panthers can achieve similar success without the All-American Howard has two players who are being courted nationally in lineman James Wilson and Clyde Yandell.
Polk County football would take another three pages minimum. Lake Gibson and Fort Meade will always be among the best in the state. They have, so what’s to think they’ll soon change. Lakeland Evangel Christian won a state championship in Class 1B last year.
So, as the frequency of whistles blow throughout the state, keep a close eye on football in Polk and St. John’s County. It should point the way toward the top in their respective classifications.