On Sunday night, as the primetime matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens got underway, the players in each starting lineup appeared along the lower-third of the screen and introduced themselves. Typically the prerecorded introductions include the player stating their name and the university they attended prior to entering the NFL. But when Maurkice Pouncey, starting Center for the Steelers, materialized on screen, he didn’t claim the University of Florida – where he won a BCS National Championship.
“Lakeland Senior High,” boasted Pouncey.
“Where Winning is a Tradition”
When it comes to high school football, Florida is the pinnacle of competition, churning out more elite talent annually than anywhere else, and the Dreadnaughts are one of the state’s perennial powerhouses. They’re a team that others see on their schedule and immediately begin to calculate how their playoff odds will look after a loss to LHS. Any opponent who swaggers into Bryant Stadium thinking otherwise is quickly forced to reconsider when they look up and see the dates representing each of the Dreadnaught’s 18 District Championships, six Florida 5A State Championships, and two USA Today National Championships, alongside the words, “Where Winning is a Tradition!”Dreadnaught football’s tradition of winning begins and ends with one man (though I suspect you’d be hard pressed to ever hear him say such a thing), Head Coach Bill Castle. Castle arrived at LHS as an assistant coach in 1971 and took over the top job five years later. The rest is the stuff of legends. MaxPreps.com, one of the premier sites for high school sports news and recruiting, lists Castle as the 19th greatest high school football coach of all time and the eighth winningest among active coaches. They also list Castle’s 2005 National Championship squad (anchored by Maurkice and Michael Pouncey, along with 17 other players who went on to play in college) as the 21st greatest high school football teams of all time. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, in 2007 Castle was named the Coach of the Century by the FHSAA.
That’s a resume that could have easily landed Castle a more lucrative opportunity elsewhere, but he has stayed put. When I asked him why, he pointed to three things: great support from the school and administration, great community support, and excellent assistant coaches through the years. “They’ve all been so supportive of our program,” said Castle, “so I really have had no reason to look anywhere else. It’s been a great ride for me.”When I asked about the Dreadnaught’s storied history of success, Castle made no mention of his personal accolades. Instead, he beamed with pride as he talked about how rewarding it is to see his players succeed on and off the field, “It’s always gratifying when any player leaves here and goes to college and gives themselves an opportunity to be successful in life. There are very few that are fortunate to go as far as the Pounceys, so it’s always gratifying whenever a player comes out of your program and goes on to be successful in whatever career they’re in.”
Coach Castle’s football brilliance is undeniable, but his passion to see his players develop into young men of character is perhaps his most impressive characteristic. When asked about tonight’s homecoming game against George Jenkins, Castle was quick to talk about the new Dreadnaught tradition of waving to the children in the new pediatrics wing at Lakeland Regional after the first quarter. “That’s a really special moment,” said Castle, “teaching our young men to use the opportunities they’ve been given to give back to other people. That’s what it’s all about.”
Tonight, Castle and the Dreadnaughts (6-0) face off against George Jenkins (4-1) at Bryant Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30pm.