Before last week's state semifinal game against The Bolles School (Jacksonville, Fla.), Madison County High School coach Frankie Carroll said his team would "have to play the perfect game" to beat the Bulldogs. Apparently, perfection was not in the game plan for the Cowboys.
Bolles won decisively, 21-7, over FAB 50 No. 28 Madison County, scoring two touchdowns in the final quarter to knock the defending Class 2A state champions out of the playoffs.
Getting a win in the football-crazed community of Madison County is never easy, especially when the Cowboys return 17 starters -- including a pair of Florida State verbal commitments in running back Chris Thompson and defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel -- from a team that hadn't lost in 24 games dating back to the 2007 season opener. Despite the obstacles, Bolles junior running back Jawan Jamison rushed for 193 yards and scored the first and final touchdowns of the game.
The Bulldogs' victory reaffirmed what the record books already reflect -- that Bolles, despite its small-school classification, is one of the most dominant football programs in the state of Florida.
Only Gulliver Preparatory School (Miami) stands in the way of undefeated Bolles claiming its ninth state football championship, the most of any school in the state. The Bulldogs and the Raiders play Saturday at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Charles Rogers, affectionately known by his players and colleagues as "Corky," is the man responsible for guiding Bolles to seven of those championships.
When Rogers came to Bolles from his alma mater at Robert E. Lee High School (Jacksonville, Fla.) following the 1988 season, Bolles was already a successful program, having advanced to the playoffs nine times since 1975 and winning its first state championship in 1986. But Rogers almost immediately catapulted the program to new heights, leading the Bulldogs back to the playoffs in his first season as head coach after a two-year absence and bringing Bolles its second state title one season later.
Since Rogers arrived at the private school nestled on the banks of the St. John's River, Bolles has only missed the playoffs once (1992).
Because of the Bulldogs' continued success, Bolles leads the state in almost every major category, including most playoff appearances (28) and playoff games won (63). Bolles is also second in most postseason games played (82), trailing St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) by three.
Perhaps more impressive than all the records is the fact that Bolles has managed to be successful regardless of its classification.
The Bulldogs won their first two state titles in 1986 and 1990 as a Class 2A team. In 1991, Bolles was reassigned to Class 3A and won its third state title two seasons later. In 1994, the Florida High School Athletic Association added the 6A classification and Bolles was once again reassigned, this time to Class 4A. The Bulldogs won the Class 4A state title the next year.
Bolles was downgraded to Class 3A in 1997 and won the state title in 1998. The following year, Bolles was reassigned to Class 2A again, winning another state championship in 2002. After another two seasons in Class 3A (and another state title in 2004), Bolles returned to its current 2A classification in 2005, winning its most recent state championship the next season.
To Rogers, the reasons for Bolles' success comes from within the school.
"We've been blessed with two or three things here," Rogers said. "One, we have an administration that's supportive of athletics, and they've given us the time to coach. We have great assistant coaches. We have many of them that would be head coaches at other places if they chose to do it, but we've stuck together as a group of people, and then we get good kids."
The 2004-05 National High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year also encourages his players to compete in as many sports as they can. But if they aren't playing another sport, Rogers said, they're in the weight room throughout the year.
"It's just a process (that) either you buy into it, you want to be a part of it or you don't," Rogers said. "It's not for everybody, but the ones that do, when they do these things they generally become pretty successful."
With the wins piling up for Bolles, despite the many moves in the FHSAA classification, 'pretty successful' could be putting it lightly.
In 2004, Rogers became the leader in career wins among Florida high school football coaches. His 374-68-1 career record (233-29 at Bolles) is tops among Florida high school football coaches, and he is tied for most state titles among high school coaches in Florida history.
Recently, the FHSAA planned to reclassify all schools for the 2009 season -- a move that has prompted mixed reaction from coaches throughout the state. But Rogers didn't seem too concerned about where his team could wind up next year.
"One thing I get tired of is people complaining," Rogers said. "You know, it's a tough world out there. Sometimes you've got to be a big boy and accept what you're given and do the best with what you have."
Although Gulliver Prep doesn't boast the same resume as Bolles, the Raiders are still a team with plenty of talent on both sides of the football.
When the two teams face off Saturday, Rogers will look for improvement from his a senior-laden team that started the season with little experience.
"Quite a few of these guys were inexperienced, even though their age or their grade in school didn't look like it," Rogers said. "You've got to play on the field to really get that experience that you need and it's taken about a half a season. We're doing it now. We've got guys playing at a little higher level than we certainly were at the first of the year."
If Bolles delivers on a ninth state championship, it will once again be on top of Class 2A. The state reclassification plans will be announced on Dec. 15, and if Bolles has to move again, it will probably just be another place for the Bulldogs to find success.
Peter Burke is a freelance writer in Florida.