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May 29, 2013
Stop 29: Deland looks to rebuild, return
Our 30 stops in 30 days spring tour continues with a check in at Deland.
DELAND -- For the fourth year in a row, the Deland Bulldogs entered the winter with an unknown.
Deland, which has seen four coaches in four years, has the unknown factor answered with former Gainesville head coach James Thomson taking over - and the stability of returning interim head coach Al Manning to Thomson's staff.
In 2009, Kevin Pettis led the Bulldogs to the Class 6A (now 8A) state title game, then in 2010, he left for Crestview. In 2011, Ryan Smith brought the Bulldogs to the second round of the post-season. Smith resigned to take a job in Perry (Fla.) to be closer to his family.
Interim head coach Al Manning led the 'Dogs to district title and lost in the first round of the playoffs, but did not get the 'interim' tag removed from his name.
Enter Thomson - fresh off a 6A state title game appearance with the Purple Huricanes.
"It's been different situations," Thomson said of the coaching carousel. "Kevin (Pettis) left for more money at Crestview. Ryan (Smith) left to be closer to his family."
"With those two issues there, it's not people running from Deland, it's different issues each time with the coaches," Thomson said. "Honestly, this is the best structured high school I've ever seen. I'm happy to be here."
"This senior class I've got - they've had a different head coach every year they've been here," Thomson said. "Not that it's an issue, but they haven't had any continuity. We had to win the kids over - which is a big thing. Now we just have to go to work and get back on the grind."
Thomson got to work fast and has a good nucleus of talent to work with - especially up front - where Rivals three-star Benjamin Knox anchors the offensive line.
Knox, a verbal pledge to Florida. He'll be joined on the line by TE Gabe Schrade. Schrade will play 'h-back' in the Thomson offense.
However, the majority of starters on both offense and defense graduated.
"We have basically a total rebuild," Thomson said. "It's fine, because with a new system, we can put in our system and our players."
"Deland's always had a running back," Thomson said. "We have a three-headed battle for us at running back and we'll still have that battle going on come this fall."
Dontay Dunn may have established himself as a leader in that race, running for 124 yards on 13 carries in a 14-13 win over Orlando Boone.
Mike Dixon and Poochie Pitts will continue to press Dunn.
Defensively, the 'Dogs are led by DE Tyler Havenner and LB Vilami Netane. Both performed very well during the spring.
Deland opens the 2013 season with rival Mainland.