Polk County: What we’ve learned in 2016–already

Is it too early to have a “state of the union” type address barely 60 days into the new year? Perhaps. Especially when it pertains to football during the months of January and February, which is supposed to be the quote-unquote, offseason. A lot is going on in our world this offseason and this week we are going to bounce around the counties and find out what we have learned–and possibly things we WILL learn in the not-so-distant future. Today, we start with Polk County.

Kathleen's Tobias Larry
Kathleen’s Tobias Larry

So far in 2016 we’ve learned that Auburndale’s Chauncey Smart is fast–like, really fast. We’ve learned that the pair of linebackers from Kathleen–Ventrell Miller and Tobias Larry–are having dream-like starts to their new year and another pair of players from the arch rivals Lakeland–AJ Davis and James Robinson–are going to have their pick of the litter as it pertains to a “dream” school.

Smart has been tearing up the camps with his blazing sub-4.4 speed that’s picked him up an offer from Troy at the beginning of March, while Miller has picked up 20 offers alone from January 12th–beginning with Virginia Tech–till March 5th, the date of his most recent offer which came at the hands of Colorado State. Larry, a BCP camper and standout at Ignite, just recently picked up an offer from Georgia Southern following a string of offers that included Louisville, UCF and USF. Most notably, they both hold offers from the University of Illinois, which just hired a certain coach who was at the helm of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this time last year.

As far as Davis and Robinson are concerned, the number of Power Five programs that have offered them since January 1st alone is too much to list, but rest assured they are going to be two of the most sought-after prospects in the country even if they decide to commit early. Remember, the recruiting game is NEVER over these days until said prospect is spotted walking to class as an early enrollee it seems. Therefore, the hype–and the number of college coaches present at each game–will be unquantifiable surrounding the City of Lakeland on Friday nights this fall.

We’ve also learned that transfers still are going to play a major part in this upcoming season. Among the highest of this in profile thus far, Lakeland Christian received fantastic news when they learned that QB Tate Whatley and ATH Chase Lawson were making their way from Strawberry Crest over to LCS. Under Wayne Peace’s tutelage, Whatley has the potential to become a yardage machine with the amount of talent the Vikings have on their roster–and with two seasons left things could get very interesting with his recruitment if he continues to shine like he has this offseason.

Speaking of QB’s, we’ve learned that Polk County is setting up to be arguably one of the most-exciting centers for signal-callers if they all play to their potential. We’ve mentioned the addition of Whatley at Lakeland Christian, but let’s not forget about Lakeland’s Holden Hotchkiss, Winter Haven’s William Tate and Victory Christian’s Dalton Jenner. That’s potentially miles-and-miles worth of yardage accrued between those four combined provided their weapons stay healthy.

We’ve learned that consistency at the coaching level is key. We mentioned it in articles last week pertaining to schools in Hillsborough that seemingly have the talent, but lack the structure to keep the foundation solid. Lakeland’s Bill Castle begins his 40th season at the helm for the Dreadnaughts while Kathleen’s Irv Stickland will begin his tenth. While Castle’s wins total requires us to take our shoes off and count to a number we can’t conceive, Strickland’s twenty games over .500 as the head coach for the Red Devils and they are coming off one of their most successful seasons in their looooong program history. Charlie Tate is beginning his twelfth season as the head coach at Winter Haven and since his arrival, the Blue Devils have only missed the playoffs twice wining the district championship seven times. By comparison, George Jenkins is going to usher-in their tenth coach since their program began in 1993.

Who are the next likely candidates to become the equivalents of Castle, Strickland and Tate? What we are starting to learn is that they could be located at Lakeland Christian School and Victory Christian Academy. Before Wayne Peace arrived at LCS, the Vikings had won just 26 games combined in their six seasons as a program. Since his arrival, they are 40-14 as he begins his sixth season. Victory Christian’s Tommy Lewis is their fifth head coach since 2006, but Lewis is 30-11 in his three seasons and the Storm have won three consecutive regional titles along with a runners-up and a state title to their credit.