It’s hard to believe, but it was all the way back in 2006 when Lakeland last claimed a state title in football. It came in a 45-42 win in double overtime over St. Thomas Aquinas with one of the most dramatic stops on 4th and goal that you’ll ever see.
Aquinas chose to go for the win on 4th and goal instead of kicking a game-tying field goal and extending the game to a third overtime. The Dreadnaughts stopped the running play at the half-yard line, giving the program its sixth state championship.
It was the third straight title for the Dreadnaughts…and they haven’t won one since. Lakeland head coach Bill Castle says there is some relief to making it back to the state finals.
“It does feel good to be back in the playoffs and everything," said Castle, who was named "Coach of the Century" by FHSAA in 2007. "Since it’s been quite a while since we have been there. So we are excited and looking forward to it.”
Castle has been the head coach at Lakeland since 1976. He won his first state title in 1986. His last two championship teams of 2005 and 2006 were named national champions by USA Today.
Friday will mark the end of Castle’s 43rd season at the helm of Lakeland’s football program. He has a total of 431 wins. Castles says the Lakeland community expects and appreciates all that winning.
“We have been so fortunate to have the great community support and administrative support, student body, and the school,” said Castle.
The Dreadnaughts expect plenty of fans in Orlando on Friday, when they take on St. Thomas Aquinas – a program that has more current NFL players than anyone in the nation.
“They’re loaded with Power 5, D-I athletes. We’re excited for the challenge and we just hope that we can play our best game,” said Castle as he oversaw his team's practice at Thomas W. Bryant Stadium in Lakeland.
The last time Lakeland was in a state championship game was back in 2008. In the game, the Dreadnaughts fell 56-7. That type of loss has stuck with Castle.
“I definitely remember getting embarrassed in that game but someone told me the other day that 11 of their players from that team are still in the NFL playing ball.”
It will be a tough task for Lakeland, but Bill Castle has beaten Aquinas before. In fact, he is 4-1 against them in State championship games. His coaches and players would love make it 5-1 this Friday night.
“My senior year, that 2008 season I was the starting center," said offensive line coach Caleb Pickrell. "We will be the away team on Friday, same sidelines we were on back then. It has been exactly ten years and we have some unfinished business. We are extremely excited to lineup and play them. To be able to get another one for Castle and Lakeland would be an honor.”
“He’s been here 40+ years and we just want to bring another one home because he has done so much for the Lakeland program and it would mean a lot to me, my family, and just the Lakeland family,” said senior offensivle lineman Deyavie Hammond, who is one of a handful of D-I recruits on this Dreadnaughts squad.
Family is the word Bill Castle wants associated with Lakeland football. If the Dreadnaughts can win on Friday night, the family party will be in full swing. It will start in Orlando and works it way back home in Lakeland.