To preview the 2012 high school football season, The Tampa Tribune is counting down the top 10 teams in Hillsborough County. These preseason rankings were voted on by Tribune writer Bill Ward, high school sports editor Doug Jacobs and correspondents Mike Camunas, Jarrett Guthrie and Scott Purks. Today: No. 10 Durant.
One of the most consistently good football programs in Hillsborough County can be found at the end of Turkey Creek Road in Plant City: Durant High.
Entering his 10th year as head coach, Mike Gottman has only experienced two losing seasons, won six or more games the past four years and, in his first year, went 12-2 and was just a victory away from the Class 5A state title game.
So what's it going to take to lift Durant to the next level? This year, Gottman said the Cougars have to do a better job at defending the pass and, on offense, moving the ball through the air when needed.
''We've been working real hard on both'' Gottman said. ''We saw the need to improve on those things late last season and it's been our priority this year.''
Gottman isn't too worried about his ground attack because of his returners: Jarmarlon Hamilton, who rushed for 1,117 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior, and Chris Atkins and Zach Hooper, who combined for 604 yards and seven TDs rushing.
The void left by quarterback Nick Fabrizio is a big one. He accounted for nearly 2,000 yards of offense and 28 TDs. But the Cougars have two solid candidates to replace him with last season's backup, Zach Stephenson, a senior, and junior Trey Van De Grift, who transferred from Strawberry Crest.
Gottman said his biggest concern is his offensive line, where the Cougars lost three starters to graduation. On defense, Durant also saw three of its top tacklers, linebackers Sammy Nowakowski and Chris Herald, and defensive back Michael Stephens, graduate.
KICKOFF CLASSIC: Aug. 24 vs. Bloomingdale
SEASON OPENER: Sept. 1 at Freedom