The 2016 season for Jayson Roberts and his Tampa Bay Tech Titans at 9-2 was the best one since 2009 under C.C. Culpepper when they were that same record. Like Berkeley Prep under Ciao, the Titans have yet to post a losing record under Roberts in his six seasons, and have not had a losing campaign the last decade for that matter. In their previous ten seasons before the arrival of Culpepper and Roberts, the Titans had one winning season, two playoff appearances, and one district title along with three winless seasons. Since then, you can credit Tech with the aforementioned ten winning seasons, nine playoff appearances, and four district titles.
Wiregrass Ranch and Head Coach Mark Kantor went 7-3 completing their best season in school history and making it to the postseason for just the second time in the ten-year history of the program. Wesley Chapel had a first year Head Coach in Anthony Egan, but the Wildcats were one of the best stories of the year with their best season since 2004. In the last four seasons combined, Chapel had won a total of seven games. This season, the ‘Cats finished 7-2 and just out of the playoffs behind district heavyweights River Ridge and Zephyrhills.
From 2009 to 2012, the Hudson Cobras were 9-32 including a winless season in 2011. From Mark Kantor’s second season on campus through the two years under Robert Mahler, the Cobras went 23-18 and have gone four straight seasons at .500 or better, their best stretch since 1976-97 when the Cobras were 33-10. The Cobras finished 6-4 this season following a win over Brooksville Central in their bowl game. Mitchell went 8-3 this season and were district champions for the second consecutive season under Andy Schmitz. That’s the best two-year stretch in school history.
Sunlake had an “off” year for themselves winning “just” seven games to go 7-3 on the season and out of the postseason, but the Seahawks have won at minimum seven games for seven consecutive seasons under Bill Browning and the school is just in their tenth season of existence. Another program proving their worth this season is River Ridge. In the first 20 years of the program, they were 67-137. The last six seasons under Ryan Benjamin they are 42-24, and the Royal Knights are 29-7 the last three seasons during the three-peat as district champs and appearance as region finalists this season.
Braden River and Head Coach Curt Bradley might not have reached their goals as a team, but they can hang their hats on an impressive 32-4 run over the past three seasons following their 9-2 campaign in 2016. Bradley is 38-17 in his first five seasons with the Pirates and have two district titles and a region finals appearance in that three year span mentioned at the beginning. Staying in Manatee County, it took Saint Stephen’s Episcopal eight years to reach at least 25 wins. Their record was 25-49. The last three seasons under Todd Creneti, the Falcons are 27-6 and were crowned State Champions of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference after a come from behind win over Vero Beach Saint Edward’s last month.
You can’t speak about Manatee County without mentioning its namesake, the Manatee Hurricanes. Although it was a roller coaster ride at times this year, the ‘Canes made it to the postseason yet again under John Booth in his third season. That’s the eighth consecutive playoff appearance for Manatee, their second longest streak since 1983-94. If Booth can get his squad back to the postseason in Class 8A in 2017, he will have been the only coach at the storied program to reach the postseason every year in their first four seasons at the helm in Bradenton.
Before leaving in the past week to go back and coach at his alma mater Astronaut High School, Justin Worden left a major mark on the Nature Coast Tech program. Under Worden and his three seasons in Brooksville, the Sharks went 28-6, leaving Worden one game shy of tying the all-time wins record at the school. The past two seasons, the Sharks were 22-2, back-to-back district champions and were regional finalists in 2015 in Class 5A. Chamberlain’s Jason Lane and Blake’s Adam Hill share a special connection. They both went 5-4 at their respective schools in their second seasons on the job in 2016. For Chambo, that was their most wins since 2007, and for Blake, their best season since 2000.
Plant won their 12th consecutive district championship this past season while staying undefeated in-district over that same 12-year period. In the past eleven seasons, the Panthers have either won or played for a state title and are 132-18-1 in that span. Meanwhile, Lakeland under longtime legend Bill Castle qualified for the postseason for the 24th consecutive time–although the record books from 2010 say otherwise. Victory Christian finished Regional Champions for the fourth consecutive season in Tommy Lewis’ fourth season on the job. In the Storm’s 11-year history as a program, they’ve only missed the playoffs once with two state title appearances and seven regional championships.
Lake Gibson and first-year HC Doug DeMeyer completed their best season since 2004 with a 13-1 record. Although the loss in the finals to Carol City left a sour taste in their mouths, DeMeyer took home Class 6A Coach of the Year honors and the Braves can boast they’ve only missed the playoffs twice in the last seventeen years (since 2000) while making the postseason for the eighth consecutive season. Winter Haven made the postseason for the tenth time in the past twelve years under Charlie Tate. His son Will, leaves the Blue Devils with a three-year record as a starter of 24-8 and having thrown for 4,800+ yards and 57 touchdowns.
Boca Ciega under Max Smith experienced their best record at 5-4 in a decade and reached the postseason for the first time in a decade as well. Clearwater Academy International finished 5-5 in their first season of 11-man football including an impressive 54-13 over former state powerhouses Union County by a 54-13 margin. East Lake under Bob Hudson made the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season. The Eagles have made the postseason eleven of the fourteen seasons Hudson has been at the helm. It took Northeast three years to win a total of seven games, and this season under Jeremy Frouid’s guidance, the Vikings were 7-2. That’s their best record since 2001.
Reggie Crum, now on to Alonso, guided Palm Harbor University to a 6-3 record. In PHU’s first fourteen years of existence, the ‘Canes registered just one winning season. They now have posted winning seasons in five of their last six seasons under the combination
of Matt LePain and Crume. Although CCC’s season ended in dramatic fashion with a 9OT 69-62 loss to Melbourne Central Catholic, first year HC Matt Harvey posted a 9-2 record to help his senior class finish a four-year record of 43-8. The Marauders have also won five consecutive district championships, tying them for their longest streak in school history. CCC has also made the playoffs eighteen of the last twenty-one seasons.
Pinellas Park’s Kenny Crawford has a chance to become the Patriots’ all-time winningest coach with just one victory next season. The Patriots finished 6-3 this season, which wraps up their eighth consecutive .500 or better season under Crawford and their sixth consecutive winning season. Crawford’s overall record is 58-29, which ties him with Bruce Buck for most wins at P-Park. The Patriots are 45-19 the last three seasons as well. Mike Alstott won just three games his first season at Northside Christian going 3-17. His next three seasons? Much better to say the least. The Mustangs just completed a 10-2 season to go 26-9 the past three campaigns and were state semifinalists in Class 2A in 2016. They won 10 games for the first time since 1986 and this was also the best three-year span in the school’s history since 1973. They can also boast the Class 2A Player of the Year in QB Griffin Alstott.
Last, but not least–the last time this happened, gas was .36 cents per gallon. The average monthly rent was $140.00, the first jumbo jet was used in commercial service. The Beatles and The Jackson Five were the bands of the moment. Heck, postage was .6 cents. The year was 1970. That was the last time the Clearwater Tornadoes were undefeated in the regular season. Under Head Coach Don Mesick, the Tornadoes went 9-0 and were in the playoffs as back-to-back district champions and Mesick has guided Clearwater to an 18-4 record over the two seasons. Overall, their 10-1 record was their best since 1988.
…To Be Continued
– Doug Pugh