Friday Night Football: No. 8 Winter Haven vs. Kathleen

By Chris Torello, Spectrum Sports Play-by-play
Last Updated: Thursday, September 28, 2017, 6:17 PM EDT



When: Friday, September 29, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

Where: Johnny Johnson Stadium, 1100 Red Devil Way, Lakeland, FL 33815

TV: Spectrum Sports (Channel 47, and HD 1147) and the Spectrum TV App

Coaches: WINTER HAVEN – Charlie Tate (13th season, 107-33); KATHLEEN – Irving Strickland (11th season, 65-45)

About the matchup:

            Winter Haven head coach Charlie Tate said it perfectly this week: “This game will determine our season.” It is the start of district play for both teams and being 1-0 out of the gate is the task at hand for the Blue Devils and the Red Devils. For the first time in three seasons, Charlie’s son, William (now at Ave Maria), will not be under center for Winter Haven. “I miss him, no question,” said the dad and coach. In William’s place will be the two- quarterback system of senior Randy Pritchard and sophomore Eric Williams. Pritchard will get the nod to start on Friday night, but both will play. “I wanted competition (at QB) and these two have both gotten better,” said Tate. “I wish I didn’t like them both so much as players and people. They have busted their behinds to improve. So we have two quarterbacks who can complement each other well.” Pritchard has been solid in the passing game going 12-for-16 with a pair of touchdown passes. “His ability to get the ball to receivers is great,” said Tate. The sophomore, Eric Williams, can move well and give a little more of a mobile presence out of the pocket.

            This Blue Devils offense will go as senior running back Javeon Marlow goes on Friday nights. “He has devoted himself to getting faster in the offseason by running track last spring and it paid off,” said Tate. Marlow is averaging over 15 yards per carry this season and is committed to Vanderbilt.  There is a cast of characters ready to make their presence known in the receiving game. Among those are senior T.J. Anglin has two touchdown runs and has the speed to help this team on special teams. Baseball standout and senior receiver Kobie Leonard has six receptions and two are for touchdowns.

            On the other side of the ball we find defensive tackle, and legacy player, senior Willie Lane. The future Purdue Boilermaker is a force on the line. He has played on the offensive line in the past, so he knows how to manipulate those blockers. Lane is one of three seniors on the defensive line with fellow tackle Clayton Williams and Key’Andre Smith. We move to the linebacker core of this 4-3 defense with three juniors. Outside linebacker Tavares Spann has 29 tackles to lead the way. At just 5’9” he makes you pay with all of his body on every hit. Senior safety Timothy Lowery can cover half the field on his own and help limit passing opportunities, as well as close on the run game. He has 19 tackles so far this season.

            The Red Devils love playing at Johnny Johnson Stadium. And this team will be hoping its home field magic comes to life with junior quarterback Brendan Gant. A star in the defensive secondary, Gant and head coach Irving Strickland came together after the spring game and realized he needed to step up and take the ball for the offense. A high task for who Rivals calls the 2nd-best junior safety in the nation. Gant is a dual-threat quarterback who has 3 total touchdowns (two rushing TDs). Senior running back Malik Williams will carry the load in the backfield. As will fellow senior Darius Willis who is back on the field after a torn ACL last season. Senior wide receiver, and James Madison commit, Reggie Brown has caught the lone touchdown pass from Gant this season. The speedy junior Torean Sealey can break off long plays as a runner or receiver.

            The defensive line is all about the two big boys in the middle: seniors Jaaron Jackson and Jerry Rich. Jackson is a South Alabama commit and with two parents as principals he knows the value of education and found it with the Jaguars. Rich has gained nearly 60 pounds over the past two years. He is a force and almost immovable object in the middle. The linebackers are filling big shoes with the losses of Ventrell Miller (Florida) and Tobias Larry (Purdue). Stepping in will be senior Sebastian Smart, who takes over for Miller, and moves back to the position after starting last season as a defensive end. Next to Smart is Nzhavion Durr, who is also a senior. “Nzhavion is the perfect example of not worrying about where you start,” said coach Strickland. “This is about where you finish and he has outworked and outhustled so many players.” Last season Durr earned a starting job after never starting on junior varsity. The secondary is filled with sophomore safety Zay Roberson, who started last season and is the godson of Strickland. One of the corners is senior Jarius Battle, a two-year starter who knows where everyone should be on each play.

Three and Out:

1. Playoff Payback: In 2016 this district (7A-7) went to a three-way tiebreaker with Lakeland, Kathleen and Winter Haven. The Blue Devils beat the Red Devils in the first quarter of the tiebreaker. Lakeland would be crowned the district champion and Winter Haven the runner-up. So, for Kathleen this means a little bit more on Friday night.

2.  Let’s All Go to the Playoffs: The FHSAA no longer restricts playoffs to just district winners and runners-up. The district winner automatically is in the playoffs, but a point system now allows more than two teams from a district to make the postseason.

3. Another Lane to College: Willie Lane is not the first of his family to use football to get to college. Lane has two brothers who have gone on to Division I universities and played at Winter Haven: D.C. Jefferson (Rutgers) and Adam Lane (Florida signee, later Eastern Kentucky).