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Spring swing football: Raines ready for 2019 challenges

After back-to-back state championships, stakes continue to grow for Vikings

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla.NewsJax’s high school football Spring Swing continues daily throughout spring practice across the First Coast. Today, we’ll take a quick look at Raines. 

Back-to-back was nice. But a threepeat? Unthinkable at one point, but very much in the conversation now. 

Times have changed at Raines. 

There was a time not too long ago when one championship was a career target for the Vikings and football coach Deran Wiley. 

The first one came in 2017 and the repeat came last year. For a county that was starved for football state championships from its public schools, Duval is now, suddenly, the hottest place to be in the state. 

Credit a chunk of that attention to Mandarin, which won Class 8A last year, but the lion’s share of that recognition goes to Raines. The Vikings won Duval County’s first Florida High School Athletic Association state championship by a public school in 1997 and added Nos. 2 and 3 over the last two seasons. 

For years, the playoff puzzle was a challenge that coach Deran Wiley, a Raines alum, struggled to fit together. But he solved that by finding a way past Bolles in the 2015 postseason to reach his first championship game. Raines lost to Miami’s Booker T. Washington that year, and the Vikings lost to Bolles in the second round in 2016. 

Wiley and the Vikings staff took those setbacks as challenges, and he’s taking that same mindset and applying it to 2019. 

“The road gets tougher, that’s what I expect. That’s what we’ve got to prepare for,” Wiley said. “We know everybody’s going to be after us. It’s the work. It’s the process of it. We’re up for the challenge.”

Part of the new, more challenging road is the Vikings’ move up, from Class 4A to 5A. That means a longer postseason (teams in Class 4A and below played one fewer round) and an upgrade in competition. 

“The schedule that we played, it felt like we were 6, 7A,” Wiley said. “The city gets you prepared and the out of town teams that you going to play are going to get you prepared for what’s going to be in the playoffs.”

The biggest task in spring football is trying to find players to step into some giant-sized shoes. Running back Brandon Marshall, the program’s all-time leading rusher, is gone. The defense absorbed sizable losses. Quarterback Barron Coates, who threw a decisive pass in the title game last season, is also gone. 

Defensive back Treyvon Hobbs said that just means veterans will have to step up and the younger players will have to step in and contribute right away. 

“We face a big challenge, great guys graduated like Brandon Marshall, Matt Drayton, Uriah Ratliff, some of the guys in the defensive backfield,” Hobbs said. “I feel like we’re in the rebuilding process right now. We’re definitely a plug-and-play team. Get new guys, teach the skills [to them] and put them in.”

Note: 2019 schedule will be included when available. 

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.