As one of Polk County's strongest teams, the Lake Wales Highlanders never find themselves with a shortage of talent. That continues this season. The Highlanders lost quarterback Justin Shafer and their three wide receivers Javess Blue, Oshey Washington, and Colton Davis to graduation. They also lost some other players like running back Glenn Redding. Through all of that, a crop of talent has emerged to fill holes and gel with returning veterans to create a team that should once again compete for district and state titles.
On offense it starts with a new face at quarterback. Roland Milligan is taking a large majority of snaps in addition to playing cornerback for the Highlander's defense. At 5'9" 170, he is not what you would look for size wise in a quarterback, but he has a good arm, speed, and an understanding of the position. The other player in the rotation is Railond Garrett. At 6'3" 180 he has more ideal height, but is on the slim side. Garrett, a rising sophomore, has a good arm and reads the field reasonably well. He too is a mobile guy who can make plays with his feet to take some of the pressure off in the learning process.
At running back, there are a lot of new faces and some that are playing more than last year. David Jones looks to be the feature halfback this season. At 5'9" 175 and running in the upper 4.4s, he is the speed option in the Highlanders two back set. He has quick feet and cuts as well as great vision. He will pair up with Jonte Sergeant, who will be the power complement to his speed. Sergeant is built strong in the lower body at 6'0" 220 and shows that strength when he carries the ball. He excels at getting the tough, short yards, but also has the speed to pick up big chunks as well. His home however, will most likely be linebacker.
At receiver, there is a whole new crop of guys stepping up. Anton Hadley is a tall, rangy, fast receiver at 6'3" 180. He has good hands and is a fluid runner who excels at beating coverage and getting down field to make plays. Marcel White is a big time name from the Highlanders basketball team who is in the starting rotation due to his ability to make amazing catches. At 6'3" 200, he has the height and is surprisingly tough for being as slim as he is. His acrobatic catches and speed during spring practice caught the eye of a number of schools like Florida Atlantic, Florida International, and even Miami, who talked with Coach Shafer about offering him on the spot. Lamar Welch is also showing some flashes from the receiver spot. At 6'3" 180, he is another guy who is slender, but has speed and good hands.
The offensive line returns some quality players from last season like Marvin Wright and Eddie Chadwick. Wright, who is 6'1" 280 at guard, is on the short side, but he is a tough, physical run blocker. He has interest from a number of schools right now, but most want him at defensive tackle, which is where he excelled last season and it is a better fit for his size. Chadwick is not overly big either at 6'2" 215, but he is strong and is great run blocker. He plays multiple positions along the offensive line and with size could make a good center. Like Wright, Chadwick's home is most likely on the defensive line or maybe even linebacker at the next level.
On defense, Wright plays defensive tackle and is tough to block. He has size, power, and a good use of his hands that seems to be improving from last season. His main move is a bull rush like many young linemen, but if he can develop some more moves, it will help peak more interest in him. Chadwick plays defensive end where he shows good quickness off the line and uses his hands well to shed big blocks and get in the backfield. He needs more size though if he wants to succeed on the line. He could possibly try linebacker if he has the lateral speed to work in coverage.
Linebacker for the Highlanders is the one position group with the least amount of change. The big three starting corps from last year returns in David Jones, Jonte Sergeant, and Ladaran Wilson. Jones led the team in sacks last year from this spot because he uses his speed to fly into the backfield before opposing teams have a chance to block him. Sergeant is the bruiser for the linebacker corps and has the size to play at the next level. He moves well sideline to sideline and has great read and react ability. He does a good job at avoiding and shedding blocks, which allows him to make some of the big time hits he showed last season. Wilson is another excellent linebacker. At 6'0.5" 180 he has is ok in the height department, but needs to get bigger. Like Jones, Wilson excels at flying to the ball carrier and using his speed in coverage where he had 3 or 4 INTs and several pass break-ups last season.
The defensive back position is loaded with talent as well for Lake Wales. Many of their wide receivers double as defensive backs. The best of the unit is Rolan Milligan. As mentioned earlier, due to his size and ability he is much more suited to play corner at the next level. Milligan has great feet and good hip rotation. He excels in zone coverage, but can play man also. Last year he had 3 INTs and 7 pass break-ups from the corner position and looks poised to have another great season. Lamar Welch is another player to watch at the safety position. In addition to showing flashes at receiver, the tall and slender Welch has impressed in the defensive backfield. His speed gives him good range roaming the field and he reads the quarterback well. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech came through during spring, and were very interested in his abilities. Jermel Moment is another player who will see some time this season as well. At 5'10" 175, the rising junior has an impressive 34" vertical jump and ran a 4.59 in the 40. He was a 2011 Top 100 sophomore invite to National Underclassmen combine in Orlando.
The Lake Wales Highlanders finished a strong spring with a 21-3 victory over Lake Region in their spring game last night. Sergeant and Jones ran well and each had a touchdown on the night. The defense looked good, shutting down the running game of Lake Region and there were only a few breakdowns in the secondary. The Highlanders forced two fumbles and scored seven of their points on an INT returned for a touchdown. There is still work to be done, but things look promising for the Highlanders.