Lake Wales High School head football coach Tavaris Johnson was named the 2019 Buccaneers High School Coach of the Year Dec. 29 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
During this past season, Johnson was one of 11 area high school coaches who won Buccaneers Coach of the Week and $2,000 from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation to help maintain and upgrade their football programs. Johnson won Coach of the Week during Week 10. Fort Meade Miners head football coach Jemalle Cornelius won Coach of the Week two weeks earlier.
A few Polk County residents got photos of Johnson on the Raymond James Stadium jumbotron screen. Minutes after earning the honor, Coach Johnson made a post on social media from the field.
“Being a coach is so much more than winning games, it’s about changing the lives of our youth,” Johnson wrote. “Together, we can make a difference. The Greater Lake Wales Community is indeed a better place because of your laboring and working together to achieve a common goal. We have put Lake Wales on the MAP!”
As part of the recognition, Johnson won tickets to watch the NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Jan. 26.
After winning Coach of the Week in November, Johnson told a Buccaneers.com staff reporter what is most important to him as a coach and mentor to young players.
“The most important goal for me is to teach at-risk youth the value of education and character development,” Johnson said. “The football program at Lake Wales High School tries to enrich the holistic and intellectual development the young men from our community beginning when the athletes enter into our program culminating with graduation.
“Through the myriad of experiences related to interscholastic competition, our student athletes will experience leadership opportunities, teamwork, responsibility, accountability, and rewards unique to the game of football,” he continued. “Our motto is ‘No Athlete Left Behind!’ Our goal is to be a champion in academics and football.”
With the prize money, Johnson said he wanted to help some of his senior players get into college by paying for SAT and ACT exams, in addition to upgrading some of the football equipment to be used next season and upgrading film equipment.
The Lake Wales Highlanders finished this past season 12-1, concluding with a defeat agaisnt Tampa’s Jesuit High School Nov. 22 in the FHSAA Class 5A Regional Playoffs.
So far, five Highlander seniors have signed to play football at the university level. Star running back Johnny Richardson will be playing for the University of Central Florida next year, four-star defensive tackle Gervon Dexter signed with the University of Florida, wide receiver Norman Love will be playing for Cincinnati, strong safety Joel Hadley III will be playing for Mercer and defensive tackle Rasheed Miller will be playing for Georgia Southern.
Dexter played in the Under Armour All American Game in Orlando Jan. 2.