PLANT CITY, Fla. - Clayton Varnum is emotionally and physically invested in Durant High School. The head football coach at Durant played for the school and returned to his alma mater after graduating college, first as an assistant coach on the junior varsity staff.
Ten years later, he was named as the successor to Mike Gottman, who left to become the head coach at East Bay.
Varnum is a homegrown success story, with the Cougars as a motivating factor in his mission to encourage his players to stay at the school.
Recent rules concerning the transfer of student-athletes to other programs made keeping players in the fold difficult. Players may perceive better opportunities elsewhere, and leave the program for another school.
"The biggest thing we worked in the offseason was keeping our guys here," said Varnum. "There's an epidemic of guys transferring around this county, and everywhere in the state. A college coach told me, 'This is the wild west down here with guys going everywhere.' So our big focus was keeping our guys here. And we did."
The message has paid immediate dividends: The team is off to a 3-0 start.
Players credit Varnum with instilling a work ethic and sense of pride in wearing the Durant Cougars uniform.
Senior linebacker Austin Bovee started his Durant days playing for Coach Varnum when Varnum was the head coach for the JV squad.
"I love him as our head coach," offered Austin. "He's very intense. He likes to speed things up and get everybody fired at practice. I love it."
Austin's teammates agree. Cade McClellan is a senior playing on the offensive line.
"I played JV freshman year," Austin said. "And he was such a great coach."
Quarterback Marcus Miguele also has benefitted from Varnum's mentorship.
"He's fun. He knows when to laugh, and then get serious," Marcus said. "We knew how to act once he became the varsity head coach. It's like we've been here already."
Offensive lineman Nash Sollmann is impressed with Varnum's character.
"He has good discipline," said Nash." At the same time, he has a good code of morals and tries to stick to that no matter what."
Three games is too short a period of time to gauge long-term success. But with the foundation Clayton Varnum is building, all indications are that success will not be fleeting.
"I want future teams to see that when nobody leaves, when you go to your area school and play there, you can be successful," he added.