LAKELAND – Damarri Mathis has quickly developed into a shutdown defensive back in just three high school seasons at Lakeland. The rising senior is determined to get even better as the Dreadnaughts search for their first state title since 2006.

The 5’11 1/2″, 180-pounder is coming off his second full-time season as a starting cornerback. He totaled 46 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions last year. Playing at 175 lbs., Mathis wants to get into the 185-190 pound range.

He started out at safety at Lakeland as a freshman playing JV before moving to cornerback. That came after playing running back and wide receiver since the age of 6. He said it was his choice to move to defense entering high school.

“It was a big jump for me. Defensive back was hard when I first learned to play it. I had to work a lot on my footwork and my break in and overall speed. After practice, I stayed with my cornerback coach and did cones and ladders.”

Mathis says he likes to be very physical and aggressive at cornerback. He plays the game for him and his teammates.

In terms of his maturation and confidence, he said that came in his sophomore season.

“There were a lot of guys in front of me at cornerback so I worked my way up to being the head man. I moved a couple seniors out of their position and made a lot of plays. After that season, I saw how far I could play defensive back. It came natural to me.”

Last season, the Dreadnaughts advanced to the 7A region final where they lost to Viera 24-14. After losing in the quarterfinal and the semifinal in the previous years, it was a solid 9-3 posting. Lakeland beat Sickles and Plant along the way to the region final.

“We had a pretty good season last year. We played some hard fought games against some good Tampa teams. We played more as a team in the second half of the season.”

…We came together instead of playing each other. We were prepared mentally against Viera but they wanted it more than us. That’s why they came out on top.”

Mathis is fortunate to play for a very successful head coach in Bill Castle, who is entering his 41st season in charge at Lakeland. He has led them to six state titles (1986, 1996, 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2006).

“It’s fun because at practice he [Castle] keeps us pumped up. For the game, he pumps us up too. The tradition of winning is so big there and the team goes hard in practices and games.”

Colleges have been showing Mathis love here as late as he now holds 14 total offers with the latest coming from Western Kentucky on Friday.

The list includes Cincinnati, FIU, FAU, UCF, UMass, Southern Mississippi, UNC-Charlotte, Toledo, Central Connecticut State, Old Dominion, Troy, Bowling Green and Coastal Carolina.

He also has interest from North Carolina, South Carolina, Rutgers, Baylor, USF, Missouri, Arizona, Iowa State.

Mathis says he doesn’t have a leading school currently and is neutral. He plans on visiting UCF and Cincinnati along with other schools this summer.

He says if North Carolina offered that would be a dream for him. Tight ends coach/recruiter Chad Scott stays in contact with Mathis on a week-to-week basis.

“I’ve liked them for a long time. I like ACC schools. I’ve been following them and their success. It would be perfect if they offered me.”

Mathis says his biggest strengths are his speed, footwork and his vertical. He posted the second-best mark for the vertical jump (40 1/2 inches) at the Nike Opening in Orlando a couple months ago.

He’s working on becoming a better student of the game by watching film and studying his opponents often. He calls getting stronger something that you can always do.

In practices, Mathis matches up against rising senior wide receiver James Robinson, a highly sought after prospect.

“It’s good competition between me and him because he’s a big, tall and physical receiver. He doesn’t let up on any plays. You have to bring your A-game on every play with him. You can’t be lackadaisical with him.”

His parents serve as his biggest role models because he says they do so much for him.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I thank them for everything they’ve done. They’ve been there for the whole process of me playing football. They’re supportive of me.”

Mathis’ ultimate goal is to get his degree and make it to the NFL. He plans to study Computer Science in college.

Whether he’ll be a safety or cornerback at the next level, Mathis will excel there’s no doubt in my mind. This kid is determined, disciplined and highly intelligent.

Damarri Mathis is a core leader for Lakeland and will have a huge senior campaign out to prove even more in his third year as a starter.

Quick hitters

Favorite players to watch – Kansas City Chiefs CB Marcus Peters
Playlist before games – Young Thug
Favorite movies – Bad Boys II
Favorite TV shows – Ridiculousness, Man v. Food, SportsCenter
Fun fact about you that nobody knows – “I can dance a little bit.”
Nickname from teammates or friends – “D”

Game film: Mathis’ Hudl tape

Jake Perper is the scout for Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to write below or email Jake at jake.perper@hotmail.com.

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