After moving on from longtime head coach Will Tate, Winter Haven (Fla.) High School needed to make a hire that got it back among the top teams in Polk County like Lakeland and Lake Gibson.
It seems that the Blue Devils have found their man in James Thomson. Thomson is an an 18-year high school football coach who has multiple state titles to his name. Thomson has had stops in Cornerstone, Gainesville, and DeLand all before heading just north to Georgia where he coached Northview and Tucker.
When we asked Coach Thomson about why he got into coaching, he stated his strong belief that small town football is a way to give back and build a stronger and better community. Football can also teach life lessons not learned in the classroom. He noted that for himself and many others around the nation who grew up without male role models, coaches often filled that void.
Can Winter Haven Compete with the Juggernauts of Polk County?
Polk County is loaded with teams full of Power 5 players and top-notch coaching staffs. Lakeland has a storied history with seven state titles. Many believe that its 2008 team is the best that Florida has ever seen.
Lake Gibson has been on the rise with its relatively new coaching staff. The Braves are largely viewed as the new challenger to Lakeland in the county. That’s a distinction that once beloned to Winter Haven.
A lot of the higher-rated players in the county, state, and even nation play for either Lakeland or Lake Gibson. That begs the question: can Winter Haven compete?
Winter Haven, as a city, has been plenty full of talent. The problem has been keeping that talent home. Some of the most recruited players in the county were originally Blue Devils.
Jacobe Fowler, Ty Williams, Brayshon Williams, and many others have left Winter Haven to continue their football careers. Many have since garnered Power 5 attention with offers from schools like Miami, Oregon, Florida, and others.
Since there isn’t a lack of talent, Thomson will have to convince players that he can get them to the next level. The previous staff failed to adapt to modern times and embrace the social media recruiting era. We’ve already seen some drastic changes with that under Thomson. He looks to continue to modernize the program.
On top of modernizing the program, Coach Thomson will need to assemble a staff of coaches who can help modernize what has been an archaic offense. The Blue Devils have neglected the passing game for years.
Players To Watch
Winter Haven has some talented players still on the roster. These are players who can help Thomson accelerate the rebuild of the program. A few are listed below:
Guiseann Mirtil – 2024 TE: Depsite having to replace now UCF defensive end Joshua Celiscar, the Blue Devils never missed a beat. Mirtil averaged 19 yards per catch despite playing in an offense that seldomly threw the football.
Alfred Smothers – 2024 RB/OLB: With last year’s starter Jacobe Fowler transferring out, Smothers is primed to step into the starting running back role. After scoring four touchdowns last season, the speedy back should be poised for a great season.
Terrel Redding – 2023 CB: Redding forced three turnovers during his junior season despite playing in only four games. With increased reps on defense, Redding should be ready to step up. With the slew of talented receivers that they’ll face, the Blue Devils certainly need him to.