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Union County football preview

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By Mike Ridaught
Twitter – @ridaught

Andrew Thomas knows a little something about coaching Class 1A football in Florida.

Thomas won two state titles in three years at Trenton.

During the 2015 season the Tigers (14-0) were unbeaten and outscored their opponents, 686-143, including a 56-21 win against Port St. Joe in the 1A state final.

He went 60-5 in five seasons with the Tigers.

Following stints at T.R. Miller High in Brewton, Alabama, and Trinity Catholic in Ocala, the Dixie County alum accepted the Union County job earlier this year after leading the Celtics to the second round of the state playoffs in 2019.

Thomas said the tradition and the community are what attracted him to Lake Butler.

“I believe it’s one of top jobs in Florida that loves its football,” he said. “I believe in time we can be back to competing at the highest level. That’s our goal.”

Thomas is hoping to return Union County to its glory days.

From 1994-1996, the Tigers won 52 games in a row (second longest in state history) under coach Robbie Pruitt. They won three straight Class 3A state titles.

In 2007, the Florida High School Athletic Association, as part of its celebration of “100 Years of Florida High School Football,” named the 1996 Union County High School football team as its Small School Team of the Century.

The Tigers went 12-1 in 2004. Union County was up 22-6 at Pensacola Catholic in the Class 2B North state semifinal, seeking their second consecutive championship game berth.

However, the Tigers committed five of their seven turnovers after taking the two-touchdown lead and a previously unbeaten season ended with a 23-22 loss.

“I cried the whole way home,” said then-junior tailback C.J. Spiller, a first team Parade All-American who would later become a top 10 pick in the NFL draft.

The Tigers were Class 2B state runners-up in 2003, falling to Pahokee in the state championship game.

But that was the last time that Union County played for a state title.

“Tradition and great players” are what Thomas said he thinks of when it comes to Union County football. The school has produced some big talent in the past.

Spiller (Clemson), Gerard Warren (Florida), who was drafted 3rd overall in the 2001 NFL draft and was a defensive tackle for 11 seasons in the league, Bennie Alexander (Florida), Kevin Alexander (Clemson), and Andrew Zow (Alabama) are among some of the great players who have helped build the tradition at Union County.

Cortez Slocum, Trevor Holtzendorff, Paden Clyatt, and Curran Webb are some of the big names for 2020.

Slocum caught 36 passes for 597 yards with three touchdowns and three 2-point conversions on offense last year as a junior. Defensively, he had 25 tackles, including one tackle for a loss, two interceptions, and one 85-yard fumble recovery.

Clyatt (85 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 interception return for TD, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble) and Holtzendorf (103 tackles, 17 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 3 forced fumbles) were first team All-Area selections by the Gainesville Sun as juniors.

Webb recorded 54 tackles, 9 TFL, three sacks, had three fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble in 2019 as a sophomore linebacker.

Union County returns three starters on offense and five on defense from last year’s 7-6 team which advanced to the Class 1A Region Finals under former coach Kepa Sarduy.

“We will be multiple in both,” noted Thomas. “Offensively from a spread wing option set, a very multiple attack. Defense will be a 4-2-5/3-4 mix.”

The Tigers will get a good test in the Kickoff Classic at home against Chiefland on the 14th of August, followed by a trip to Lanier County in Lakeland (GA) for the season opener on Friday, August 21.

Union County has a young team, but Thomas has high expectations.

“We will definitely be a team that improves from start to finish,” said Thomas.

School: Union County (Lake Butler)
Coach & year: Andrew Thomas (1st year)
Number of returning offensive/defensive starters: Offense – 3/Defense – 5
Key losses: Hosea Robinson, JB Godwin, Lance Thorton, Allan McClellon
Key returning players (Name, position, year): Cortez Slocum, Curran Webb, Trevor Holtzendorff, Paden Clyatt
Key newcomers (Name, position, year): TBD
Most important position battles heading into the fall: ALL are going to be battles
Outlook/expectations: Always high expectations, unsure what we are yet. We have a extremely young team. We will definitely be a team that improves from start to finish.

2020 Football Schedule
Aug. 14 – vs. Chiefland (Preseason)
Aug. 21 – at Lanier County (Lakeland, GA)
Aug. 28 – vs. Williston
Sept. 4 – vs. Dixie County
Sept. 11 – at Newberry
Sept. 18 – TBA (Oak Hall game canceled)
Sept. 25 – at Hamilton County
Oct. 2 – vs. Santa Fe
Oct. 16 – at Hawthorne
Oct. 23 – vs. Jordan Christian (Auburndale)
Oct. 30 – vs. Keystone Heights

Class 1A-Region 3 (top 6 make postseason)
Branford
Bell
Dixie County (Cross City)
Fort White
Hamilton County (Jasper)
Hilliard
Lafayette (Mayo)
Madison County
Union County (Lake Butler)

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