Twenty years ago, Raines made football history. Two years ago, the Vikings got humbled.
Older, wiser and more prepared, Raines will try and add long-awaited state championship No. 2 to a trophy case already overflowing with tradition.
The Vikings (12-1) face defending state champion Cocoa (11-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Class 4A title game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, with Raines hoping to turn a chapter of Duval County history that has been bookmarked at page 1,997 for far too long.
“It wasn’t our time two years ago, just wasn’t our time, I kept saying it’ll come around again, and I think the results will be different,” said Raines coach Deran Wiley, now in his ninth season. “And here we are. I want to win it for the city, public school-wise, get another public school state championship.”
Wiley knows the Raines history well. He played defensive back for the Vikings, signed with Louisville in 1993 and later returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach. He was promoted to the head coaching position in 2009, inheriting a team that was coming off of a 2-8 season. Wiley has won six games or more every season of his career, and was voted the state’s top coach in 2015 after leading the Vikings to the Class 4A title game.
“I was on that 2015 team and being there was a great experience,” said defensive back Shamar Jackson. “But at the end, it hurt. It still plays in my mind. When the clock struck triple zeroes and I heard the chants of ‘Duval,’ it brought tears to my eyes. Given the privilege to get there again is a blessing. This is my last opportunity to be there and change the outcome.”
But like so many attached to the Vikings program, Wiley remembers the one date that stands alone in area football history — Dec. 20, 1997. It’s seared into the minds of passionate football fans in the area, no more so than for those with ties to Raines.
The Vikings, under first-year coach Welton Coffey, topped Belle Glade Glades Central 32-27 for what remains the only Florida High School Athletic Association state championship for a Duval County public school. Twenty years later, and, for the second time in three seasons, the Vikings are back in the state championship game, optimistic that history will be made, again, by Raines.
“When Raines is good, there’s a good buzz in the city,” Wiley said. “I’m not discounting any other team but we have an unbelievable following. What I tried to do was create a buzz, get guys to buy in and understand that. When Raines is good, the city of Jacksonville is better because of that tradition and history of the school.”
Raines’ tradition is unmatched in the area in terms of former players reaching the NFL (23 have gone, with six playing in Super Bowls). As powerful as those numbers are, the other side of the high school equation is equally mentioned in area football circles.
“We’re trying to make history, go out there, have a great game,” said quarterback Ivory Durham IV. “It feels like this is the year. Everything happens for a reason and God chose us [to play for a title].”
For as much talent has traveled through the area, Duval County’s public schools have time and again stumbled when it has mattered the most. Five different Duval public schools — First Coast, Lee, Raines, Sandalwood and Wolfson — have combined for eight championship game appearances. Those teams are a combined 1-7 in those games.
The Vikings had a shot in 2015, going into the final quarter leading Miami Booker T. Washington. Raines imploded, allowing 29 points over the final 12 minutes and lost 43-23.
“They talk about that [1997 team] a lot, but they talk about 2015 more,” said center Christopher Kindley, whose older brother, Solomon, signed with Georgia that season. “That team had a lot of Super 24, Super 11, big name guys. We don’t. We have a lot of no name guys. But that’s us. We can go out there and do something, make history. People know me as Solomon’s little brother, not Chris. I told him on Sunday, ‘I love you big bro, but I’m going to get me a ring and we can share it.’”
One big improvement has been the offensive line, a unit that Wiley said may be the best he’s coached. The other is having a record-setting quarterback in Durham, who enters the championship game as the program’s all-time leading passer (4,868 yards, 47 TDs, nine INTs in two seasons).
“We had one goal after we lost the Bolles game in the second round [in 2016],” Durham said. “We don’t want to feel that feeling anymore. The seniors have a big role this year. It all started when we lost that game. And we talked after the Lee game [in Week 1] and brought some more attention to it. We don’t want to feel that losing again.”
Durham, who played his first two years at Cedar Creek Christian, is just 179 yards from passing Tim Tebow (9,810) for third in area history. First Coast’s De’Andre Johnson and Bishop Kenny’s John Wolford are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Will a stronger offense, a better offensive line, and a powerful defense be enough to make history?
“There is a difference between this bunch and the last bunch,” Wiley said. “I’m going to go on record tonight and say this team is a tad bit better than that team. The O-line is by far better as a group. The players have made the difference in this deal. A lot of guys changed their attitudes and mindset. The guys have grown. The guys want to capture something monumental and finish this deal.”
Always settling for second
Duval County public schools have played in football championship games eight times and are 1-7 in those games. * Indicates state champion
2015: Raines, Class 4A
2011: First Coast, Class 7A
1997: Raines, Class 4A*
1995: Sandalwood, Class 6A
1973: Raines, Class 4A
1968: Wolfson, Class 2A
1967: Wolfson, Class 2A
1964: Lee, Class 2A
CLASS 4A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Raines (12-1) vs. Cocoa (11-1)
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando
Road here: Raines d. North Bay Haven, 43-0; d. West Nassau, 57-15; d. Bradford, 53-13; Cocoa d. Lake Placid, 63-8; d. Avon Park, 62-7; d. Fort Lauderdale University School, 49-14
Watch it: Game will be webcast only at https://boxcast.tv/channel/spectrum-sports-fl-ppv; cost is $9.95. It will not be shown on local television in the First Coast market.
Stay updated: Follow Times-Union assistant sports editor Justin Barney on Twitter @JustinBarneyTU for continuous game updates.