Durant football hired former player and longtime Assistant Coach Clayton Varnum as head coach. (Photo courtesy of Casey Lane.)

Former Durant High School linebacker Clayton Varnum has coached football at Durant since he graduated from the school in 2011. The lifelong Cougar has come full circle—being a Durant fan since he was 8 years old, and now, at 28, becoming the head man in February.

Varnum took over as head coach when 18-year Durant Head Coach Mike Gottman left to take over the East Bay High School football program at the beginning of the year. Gottman was Varnum’s coach in high school. Varnum has always been interested in coaching, and he enjoys teaching youth not only on the football field, but at his church as well.

The Durant TV Production teacher took over the JV program after high school, and later moved up to varsity as the linebacker coach and co-defensive coordinator after he graduated from college at Florida Southern and accepted a teaching position at his alma mater. He wants to continue the success that his mentor had, but also wants to put his own spin on the program. Varnum said that his defense will run a similar system because he was a part of it for so many years, and his former co-defensive coordinator, Frank Lane, will take over the position full-time. Offensively, they will shift more towards a spread attack, after running a pistol run-heavy previously.

Varnum and his offensive coordinator, Jackson Barwick, played together at Durant, meeting as freshmen in 2008. Barwick played receiver for the Cougars and is currently a teacher at Durant as well.

“I’m excited to see what he can do,” said Varnum. “He’s an offensive wizard and he just knows the game so well. I definitely think we are going to do our best to just take what teams give us and try to exploit numbers and get our best guys the football.”

The 28-year-old coach is one of the younger head coaches in Hillsborough County. He wants to change the perception that he can’t be successful because of his age, lack of experience as a head coach and being at the same school for his whole career, and teach his players that it doesn’t matter how old you are. Varnum is a man of God and he instills his faith in his coaching, striving to set a good example for his players. He refers to one of his favorite bible verses, 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

“I’m a Durant guy. They didn’t have to take me back as a teacher, but they did. They didn’t have to bring me back as a coach, but they did and they’ve invested in me,” said Varnum. “I want our guys to really dig their heels in—this is their area school. I have a lot of pride in this place, and I want them to have the same pride in it that I have. We are going to go out and play as hard as we can, and at the end of the day, what we control is what we can control.”

Varnum has hit the ground running since he took over the program in the spring. The Durant team won their spring game 14-7 against Strawberry Crest High School, and they are currently doing summer workouts, lifting weights, attending summer camps as well as competing in seven-on-seven tournaments. Varnum and his staff are focused on helping their players get recruited. The Cougars started practice for the regular season on August 2 and their first game is on Friday, August 20. He hopes to make it back to the playoffs with the majority of his offense returning, including his quarterback.

“Our goal is to be bigger, faster and stronger, and we want to outwork as many people as we can to set ourselves up for this upcoming season,” said Varnum. “The talking season is coming to an end, and we’re getting ready to strap up and swap paint with somebody else.”

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.