The 2023 Durant High School Cougars will have a target on their back as one of the more competitive teams in Hillsborough County. The team has shown time and time again that they are up to the task under head coach Clayton Varnum. The Cougars have averaged eight wins per season since he took the job before the 2021-22 season.

Durant blew out Chamberlain 48-6 in the regular season opener in front of about 30 former players from the 2003 Cougar football team that made it to the state final four. The team was invited back for the 20th anniversary of that historic run.

Second-year quarterback Michael Ryan was impressive, completing 12 of 14 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns through the air and running for a touchdown as well. Varnum said that Ryan has great vision, and that he can pick apart a defense and read coverages very well. He can extend plays with his feet and throws well on the run. The multitalented Ryan also handles punting duties.

The Cougars came up big in important games last season, beating rivals Newsome, Sumner and Riverview, claiming the district title with a perfect record in district play. All of those games were decided by one possession.

Varnum is happy with his team’s discipline and effort. He said they have been playing smart football, the players have been in their correct positions, they haven’t had a lot of penalties, they accept their roles and they play hard for a full game.

The head coach likes what his young offensive line, led by senior offensive linemen Alexander Smith and Luke Machristie, is doing so far and the way his defense is executing at a high level. He said they are deep and talented at the defensive back position and that several guys can play back there. Varnum is also impressed with his receiving corps. He said that the receivers have great hands and haven’t dropped a pass in the first two games.

Key players include senior running back Dominic Jones; defensive back/receiver Jayden Cornelius, who will be a difference-maker on both sides of the ball; defensive back/receiver Jayden Forte, who already has two punt returns for touchdowns; defensive back Quentin Pope, who will help shore up the secondary; and receiver Damari Styles, who is a great pass catcher. Linebackers Brant Bovee and Hale Sollmann will help lead the front seven. Kicker Isaiah Sawyer, who is a great student with a high GPA, will handle most of the kicking duties.

Durant will have to go undefeated in district play again this season if they want to repeat as district champs. The Cougars will definitely win at least eight games again. The team’s motto is “Ride the middle.” Varnum wants his squad to remain even-keeled during tough times and make smart decisions. They have the talent and discipline to go even further in the playoffs than they did the previous two seasons.


8/25 vs. Chamberlain

9/1 @ Middleton

9/8 @ Bloomingdale

9/14 vs. Plant City

9/22 @ Lennard

9/29 vs. Sumner

10/6 vs. Sickles

10/13 @ Newsome

10/20 vs. Gaither

10/27 @ Riverview

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Nick Nahas
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.