Durant looks to make a mark in 2021 under newly minted Head Coach Clayton Varnum. The former Cougars’ linebacker has coached football at Durant since he graduated from the school in 2011 and took over as the head man in February when 18-year Head Coach Mike Gottman left to take over the East Bay High School football program.

The Cougars not only have a new look with their navy-colored helmets and Florida Gator-style font that reads the team nickname, but they are off to a great start on the field as well, blowing out Freedom 49-20 in their Kickoff Classic. They also beat Strawberry Crest 14-7 in their spring game. Durant will have to replace nine graduating seniors that moved on to play college football.

The new-look spread offense will be run by Offensive Coordinator Jackson Barwick, who was teammates with Varnum at Durant from 2008-2011. Senior dual-threat QB Marcus Miguele is in his second season as the starting varsity signal-caller. The Cougars will rely heavily on his running ability. Last season, he carried the ball 90 times for 415 yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground. The strength of the offense will be with their ground game, but Varnum hopes to expand their passing game with four receivers on the field the majority of the time. They will also return seven starters on offense.

Durant’s strength will be their massive offensive line, with four senior starters: Cade McClellan, Nash Sollmann, Andy Valentine and Logan Mayo. The lone junior offensive lineman, Ajai Brown, may be their most talented—he is currently sitting on an offer from Florida International University. They will also return all of their skill position players on offense, such as junior running back/cornerback Zaevion Jordan, junior running back/safety Elian Gonzalez, junior receiver/cornerback Jeremiah Gines, sophomore receiver Jaylin Torres and sophomore running back Alex Daley, who are moving up from JV to make an impact.

Defensive Coordinator Frank Lane will call plays on defense with five returning starters. The Cougars have a strong linebacking corps with returning players junior Jacob Reed and senior Austin Bovee. Up front on the defensive line, they have two returning starters in junior Austin Lewis and junior Leo Tabakovic. Junior defensive tackle Greg Smith has had a great summer for the Cougars, while King senior transfer outside linebacker Derrick Gaskin will bring a boost as well. The secondary will have several young players called up from last year’s JV team, including junior cornerback Jayden Forte, sophomore safety Luther Scarlett and junior safety Calub Connell.

Durant has a favorable schedule, only having to face two playoff teams from last season, Newsome and Plant City. The Newsome vs Durant local rivalry has big playoff implications and bragging rights. The winner of that game will likely win the 8A District 10 crown. Varnum is the grandson of Newsome High School Founder Joe E. Newsome. The Cougars will also travel to the historic Dad’s Stadium in South Tampa to take on the Plant Panthers in their last game of the season.

Varnum thinks that his team needs to learn how to close games this year and wants to instill a winner’s mindset in his program. His goal in his first season is for his team to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 season. The Cougars have a great chance to win eight-plus games and become at least an at-large team, if they don’t win their district.

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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.