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 (66-42, 11th season) LAST SEASON: 11-1
Offensive line key to Cougars' hopes
Most coaches will say that games are won in the trenches. With an average height and weight of 6-foot-3 and 278 pounds on its offensive line, Durant is equipped to control the line of scrimmage with seniors Nick Insley, Cody Martin and Chris Powell. The trio helped pave the way for over 3,500 yards of total offense in 2012.
“They're big, nasty, physical guys,” Durant coach Mike Gottman said.
Powell, the largest of Durant's lineman, will also play defense. Martin was a Tribune All-County honorable mention last season.
“They have varsity experience and they're strong guys,” said Durant senior quarterback Trey Van De Grift. “It make it easier. I can keep my eyes down field.”
As a sophomore, Crispian Atkins rushed for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns as the second-leading rusher for the Cougars. Joining Atkins in the backfield will be senior transfer John Hendrix. Hendrix is a newcomer to Durant, but that doesn't mean the Cougars aren't aware of what he's capable of. As a junior at Newsome last season, Hendrix rushed for 798 yards and four touchdowns. Against Durant in the region semifinals last year, Hendrix rushed for 107 yards with one touchdown.
In his first year with Durant last year, Trey Van De Grift, a transfer from Strawberry Crest, threw for 1,014 yards with 12 touchdowns in the Cougars' run-first offense. Now in his second year, Van De Grift said he feels more comfortable and has built trust with his offensive line and receivers.
“I've gotten to know guys better,” he said. “I know them individually.”
Dontriel Perry, at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, was a valuable playmaker for the Cougars last season, finishing with 53 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. As a junior, Perry was selected to the Tribune All-County defensive second team.
Gottman will rely on senior Gabe Brown to lead the secondary this season. He is the lone returning starter from last year's secondary and linebackers unit.
Durant went 10-0 in the regular season to win a district title and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Newsome. Unfortunately, many of the players who made that possible graduated.
Durant lost 16 players to graduation overall, including six of seven starters on defense and one of the top rushers in the county last season in Jamarlon Hamilton.
“We'll play a lot of junior varsity guys who are mostly inexperienced,” Gottman said. “We're going to be tested.”