By the time Tavares Chase left Plant City midway through his sophomore year he was already talented enough to pull in scholarship offers from some of the best college teams in the nation. From the first day he stepped into a Raider uniform, he was one of the best PCHS ever had -- or at least most talented.
And he knew it. There weren't many defensive backs in Florida who could keep with Chase, who is now a four-star recruit in 247sports' composite rankings and committed to Clemson, and sometimes he was content to ride his talent alone. Between the first and second semesters of his sophomore year his attitude brought him to IMG Academy, where he could learn to behave like a professional.
"That's mainly what I got from there," said Chase, who returned to Plant City during the summer. "I mainly went there for the opportunity."
He's home now and for the first time since 1999 the Raiders are winning playoff games. A decade-and-a-half long drought ended Nov. 13 when Chase hauled in a pair of touchdowns and PCHS beat Tarpon Spring East Lakes by 14 in the Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinals. Two weeks later, Plant City is hosting Braden River in Friday's region championship.
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But to bring his hometown glory, he had to come to Bradenton.
It was quickly evident to the Raiders during Chase's freshman year they had a future star. In his first game at PCHS, Chase racked up 73 receiving yards and finished the year as Plant City's leading receiver.
"T.J. is a kid who had a lot of success early and I think at times it put the focus on things that weren't necessarily team oriented," Meyer said. "That has been the polar opposite approach since he's been back."
During his first tour through Plant City the athlete missed meetings, showed up late for team activities and leaned on his raw talent to pile up stats, sometimes to the detriment of the team. Despite Chase's individual ability and the talented roster around him, the Raiders never won a postseason game.
With the Ascenders, he became a full-time offensive player and the team's leading receiver. On Jan. 31, Chase verbally committed to the Tigers.
More importantly, IMG treats its athletes like professionals - or at least college athletes - and Chase needed to learn to behave like one. He fostered a relationship with offensive coordinator E.G. Green, who became the assistant head coach in the spring. The former NFL wide receiver helped Chase hone his skills and focus. Playing with a roster of four- and five-star recruits, Chase could learn the difference between player who were very good and those who were truly great.
"What I learned from IMG was to go out for practice and go balls to the wall every day. I just brought that here," Chase said. "Having the chance to compete and play with the guys I am now, it's just special."
For Braden River to stop Chase on Friday it will first have to contain Hargrove without bringing an extra player in to the box. The athlete has run for nearly 1,700 this season and allowed Plant City to move away from leaning on Chase like it did his first two years. In 12 games this year, the Raiders have run for 895 more yards than they've passed for.
Hargrove makes them good. Chase and fellow wide receiver Antoine Thompson, who actually leads the team in receiving yards, make them special.
"They're unlike anything we've seen this year," Pirates head coach Curt Bradley. "I'd like to see a team in the country that has a better tandem than these guys. These two are special."
The only comparison from Bradley's time at BRHS is George Campbell, who is now at Florida State and was an All-American for Tarpon Springs East Lake last season. Braden River met East Lake in last year's region semifinal and the wide receiver netted 83 all-purpose yards in a touchdown to help end the Pirates' perfect season.
The two players who will stand across from Chase and Thompson in the region final weren't around to face Campbell. One starting cornerback, Tyrone Collins, was a JV player in 2014 and the other, Anthony Moore, played wide receiver.
During the past month and a half Collins has developed into a shutdown corner. The defensive back is tied for the Manatee County lead with six interceptions and has three so far this postseason. The sophomore's growth began Oct. 16 when Venice's Jaivon Heiligh torched BRHS for 114 yards and Braden River shifted Collins on to the star wide receiver.
It taught Collins how to match up against elite receivers. When he intercepted two passes and broke up four against Heiligh in Friday's 17-0 win against the Indians, he credited extensive film study rather than previous experience against the sophomore. Without classes this week, Collins has extra time to prepare on his own for the one of the best receivers in Florida.
"It makes me better," Collins said. "It makes me more challenged. I like challenges."