PLANT CITY — The recipe at Durant is simple.
Run the football. Control the clock. Win games.
This season, that formula translates to “hand the ball to Crispian Atkins, over and over again.”
“It’s less pressure on the quarterback and it opens up play-action,” Atkins said.
Durant’s senior running back is coming off a junior campaign in which he saw limited action due to a second-degree ankle sprain. Still, Atkins rushed for 447 yards and two touchdowns.
“I am 100 percent,” Atkins said. “I feel quicker and stronger from last year.”
Atkins has added 7 pounds of muscle and cut down his time in the 40-yard dash. He’s mimicked his running style to match former Auburn running back Tre Mason, owning an ability to make the first defender miss and break away through the second level, and upon contact, break tackles and slip through defenders by staying low to the ground.
Though Atkins will get the bulk of the carries, expect Durant to get him the ball in a variety of ways.
“I think I’ll have a lot of impact, running and catching the ball in the backfield, as well as at receiver and the kick and return game,” Atkins said.
Atkins said he’s received letters of interest from Missouri, Indiana, Miami, Auburn, Georgia and Clemson, but all schools said they want to monitor his injury until making an official scholarship offer.
Atkins’ goals for the season is the help the Cougars win a district title, gain 2,500 all-purpose yards and “ultimately a state championship,” he said.
Senior Erick Davis takes over at quarterback after playing mostly on defense in 2013. Head coach Mike Gottman wants Davis to use his athleticism as a dual-threat quarterback in Durant’s read-option offense. The Cougars will give opponents a heavy dose of running the ball through senior Crispian Atkins, but with a 6-foot-6 receiver, a 6-4 tight end and another receiver standing 6-3 to work with, Gottman likes his team’s chances of being balanced. The offensive line, however, lost three starters to graduation, an area of concern entering the season.
Seniors Avry Walden and Quenton Williams headline a secondary that will serve as the backbone of the defense. Defensive tackles D.J Curry and Dustin Miller will be relied on to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Durant’s 3-7 finish in 2013 might not have been indicative of the team’s talent, Gottman said. The Cougars lost three district games by a combined five points, including two one-point defeats.
“We had too many penalties and turnovers last year,” he said. “Last year, we found ways not to win football games. We didn’t have that magic last year and we’re trying to get it back.”
Durant will play one of the toughest — if not the toughest — schedules in the county, opening against nationally ranked and state-title hopeful Armwood, then followed by 2013 region runner-up Sickles, All-American Deon Cain’s Tampa Bay Tech squad and district/neighborhood rival Plant City. The tough non-district games continue with Gaither, Newsome and Hillsborough, with district games against defending champion East Bay, Strawberry Crest and Brandon in between.
Gottman said if his team is to make the postseason, the difficult schedule will pay off in the playoffs.
“We’ll definitely be battle-tested,” he said.
♦ About The Cougars
Stadium: Ron Frost Athletic Complex, 4748 Cougar Path, Plant City
Class-District: 7A-8 (with Brandon, East Bay, Plant City and Strawberry Crest)
Coach: Mike Gottman (69-49, 12th season)
Last season: 3-7
Aug. 29: at Armwood
Sept. 5: Sickles
Sept. 12: at Tampa Bay Tech
Sept. 19: Plant City
Sept. 26: at Gaither
Oct. 2: at Strawberry Crest
Oct. 10: Newsome
Oct. 17: at Brandon
Oct. 24: Hillsborough
Oct. 31: East Bay