LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid High School football season was headed in the wrong direction one month into the season.
With a 1-3 record, the possibility of making the playoffs seemed highly unlikely.
Determined not to let their season slip away any further, the Green Dragons found their groove and made a remarkable turnaround. They went 5-1 in the final six regular season games and earned a spot in the Class 4A playoffs.
“I think we all started stepping up and getting along with each other and making like a family bond,” said sophomore offensivelineman Tiger Youngman, the only Seminole on the squad. “We all started playing for each other; that’s what started making us play better. We learned how to work together.”
Andy Judah, in his first season as the team’s head coach, praised the players for turning the season around.
“It wasn’t as much me as it was the players getting together and saying ‘you know what guys, we’re better than this and we’ve got to get our focus back,’” Judah said.
With a run-orientated offense, the O line needed to step up and did just that.
“Our line was ok starting off, but we all started to band together and play as one,” said Youngman, a 6-foot, 250-pound starting right tackle.
“The line decided to get dirty, and I mean that in a clean way,” Judah added. “We decided we’re not going to sit back and take it; we’re going to take it them.”
After a loss to Frostproof on Sept. 14, Lake Placid proceeded to crank out wins against Southwest Florida Christian, Mulberry, LaBelle, Discovery and Avon Park in the drive to make the playoffs. The offense scored 30 or more points in four of those wins.
“If we had lost one of those games we would not have gotten into the playoffs,” Judah said.
The surge culminated in the regular season finale, a playoff-clinching 24-19 triumph against rival Avon Park, whose head coach previously coached Lake Placid.
“If we had lost, we would have been out. Also, that was a very emotional game on multiple levels,” Judah said. “I thought we focused the emotion – obviously there was a lot of emotion that week – on the game instead of letting it distract you…”
For just the fourth time in school history – and for the second year in a row – the team earned a spot in the FHSAA playoffs. As the sixth and final seed in Region 3, the Green Dragons’ hopes of making a run in the playoffs ended with a 14-13 regional quarterfinal loss to No. 3-seeded LaBelle on Nov 9.
Next year’s team will have to replace more than 15 seniors from this year’s squad.
“We’ve lost a lot of seniors that obviously we’ll miss, but we still have quite a few weapons behind them coming back,” Judah said.
As a second-year varsity player, Youngman is only halfway through his high school career. He started playing football as a youngster in flag football, mighty mites and middle school while watching his older brother Wyatt play for the high school. Wyatt, also an offensive lineman, graduated in 2016 and helped pave the path for the next Youngman on the O line.
“He showed me a lot of stuff,” Tiger said. “I didn’t really know how to play tackle at first, but I think he was pretty good and he showed me how to play. I learned a lot from him.”
Youngman, son of Rita and Frank Youngman, didn’t have to look too far for additional inspiration from another offensive lineman. His cousin is Moore Haven senior captain Conner Thomas, who helped the Terriers to an 8-2 record and a spot in the 2A playoffs this season. When Moore Haven beat Lake Placid early in the season, Youngman and Thomas didn’t face each other directly for most of the night because both play offense, but there was a series when Youngman switched to defense and faced his cousin whom he works with during the summers on cattle.
“It was like a respecting almost, respecting to see your cousin out there doing something (he) loves to do,” Youngman said about going up against Thomas.
Just as Thomas has made an impact in Moore Haven, so too is Youngman in Lake Placid.
“His ceiling is extremely high. Obviously, the work he puts in will dictate how far he goes and, in the end, what his desires are. Football-wise, I think he’ll have a lot of options out there as to what he wants to do,” Judah said. “From the beginning of the year, an incredible amount of growth on the field, knowledge-wise, focusing energy in the correct area. I’m very glad he’s with us and I’m looking forward to a couple more years.”