Buchholz High School football team aims for state championship

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Gritty not pretty.

That’s the Buchholz High School’s football team’s motto as it prepares to compete in the state semifinal game Friday. The Gainesville team is seeded third and will play Fort Lauderdale’s second-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas High School, which is looking to defend its 2020 state title. A win would give Buchholz a chance at winning the state championship for the first time since 1990.

Buchholz’s head coach Mark Whittemore feels confident going into Friday’s game, which will be played in Ft. Lauderdale on St. Thomas Aquinas’ home field.  St. Thomas Aquinas won the state championship in 2020 and set the Florida state record for most football titles with 12.

“Our mindset is that we are the three seed taking on the two seed,” he said. “We are right there with them.”

Whittemore was a player on the 1990 team that won the last state championship. This year, he said the team was excited to make the final four. The team has made the playoffs 28 times in its 50-year history.

“It is tough to get here,” Whittemore said.

In 2020, Buchholz lost in the playoffs in overtime due to a missed field goal against Niceville. This year, the team turned that loss into motivation.

“We have a picture of the final scoreboard from that game hanging in the weight room to motivate us,” said Colsen Orth, a senior defensive end and tight end for Buchholz.

“Our team has worked really hard and are excited for the opportunity to put Buchholz back on the map,” he said. “The season up until now has been great, but our goal is to win states, so until then, we will continue to grind.”

As the lower-seeded team, Buchholz is the underdog in this matchup, but the players are looking to overcome the odds.

“The doubters have been a driving force for us this year,” Nay’Ron Jenkins, a running

back on the team, said. “Knowing that history can be made, and we could have our names remembered forever in this county is special.”

Jenkins feels good about his team’s chances Friday.

“We have a better chance than people are giving us credit for,” he said.

Carissa Clayton, the booster club president, has seen the program grow over the years her three sons played for the team, including this season.

“When my son first played here, we were not very good,” said Clayton.

This year, she feels the exact opposite. The team practices have stretched until 7 p.m. leading up to Friday’s game; when asked about the long hours, her son simply replied, “This is the state semifinals.”

“I truly believe at our best, we can beat anybody,” Clayton said. “The team has really bought into the coaching. They are unified. They play for each other.”

The team will conclude their week of practice on Thursday and then load into buses and travel to Ft. Lauderdale Friday at noon.

“We got to go down there and win a football game,” Whittemore said.

About Garrett Ballard

Garrett is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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