A football team that has gone a combined 22-2 the past two seasons figured to draw plenty of interest for its head coaching vacancy.
No surprise then that Nature Coast received over 80 resumes for its opening this past month, which the school filled this week with the hiring of Kissimmee-Liberty headman Cory Johns.
“It was one of those opportunities I couldn’t pass up,” Johns said. “I’m not into bouncing around. I’m looking for a place to be for a very long time, or at least as long as they’ll keep me. This place looked like it.
“Hopefully I’ll validate the decision that they made, get the ball rolling and do a little better than last year.”
The bar is set considerably high for the Sharks. They’ve won back-to-back district championships, advancing to the Elite Eight in 2015 and the Sweet 16 this past season. They haven’t lost a regular-season game since Oct. 17, 2014 at South Sumter, a span of 22 contests.
That all happened under Justin Worden, who went 28-6 in three years at the helm but left last month to take the same job at his alma mater, Titusville-Astronaut.
Johns was picked from five finalists and will also fill Worden’s former physical education teaching position once he has officially been cleared by the county office. The 31-year-old from Putnam County arrives after a four-year stint at Liberty, located in an area that has struggled to produce football talent and was coming off a 1-9 campaign.
The Chargers went 13-28 during his tenure, though had their best showing of 5-5 this past season.
“We really liked his enthusiasm and what he brings to the table for Nature Coast,” Nature Coast athletic director Kristin Peeples said. “We’re working on trying to build from what we had and he seems to be the guy that can do that. He brings more excitement to our program and he’s looking to get the community involved.
“He knows the game. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a great teacher, as well. He was very highly recommended from a lot of people. Nobody had anything but good things to say about him.”
He brings an interesting background considering the Sharks have rushed for 9,415 yards and 123 touchdowns the past two years, and have always operated a run-heavy offense, typical of most North Suncoast squads.
Johns is a former quarterback, first at Interlachen High before going to Jacksonville University. He played his final collegiate season at Webber International while earning his master’s degree. Prior to accepting the job at Liberty, he worked as an offensive coordinator at Ridge Community in Davenport.
Still, he doesn’t necessarily plan to turn Nature Coast into a pass-first team, and noted the Sharks’ offense under Worden was similar to the one he ran with the Chargers.
“We’ll have to evaluate the talent and decide what to do based on that talent,” Johns said. “I feel I’m a very good motivator. I think I relate well to the kids. They’ll play extremely hard for me regardless of the situation. That’s been the case everywhere I’ve been.”
During the hiring process, Johns did his own due diligence and reached out to Worden to get an idea of what he was walking into.
“At Liberty when we took over, it was a rebuild,” Johns said. “Building a program is tough. At Nature Coast, I’m looking at trying to take the next step and win a championship. I felt Nature Coast was a place I could get that done.
“Obviously, everybody’s ultimate goal is to win a state championship, and I do believe there is that chance at Nature Coast.”
Nature Coast’s boys basketball team is prepping for its own championship run and overcame perhaps its stiffest challenge of the season to remain undefeated. On Thursday night, the Sharks (23-0) won at Mitchell, 55-53. They erased a 14-point deficit in the third quarter and won on two free throws by Kaine McColley with 2.9 seconds left.
They had previously knocked off Hernando on Tuesday, 83-49, to finish 12-0 in Class 6A, District 7 play. On Friday, Nature Coast beat Hudson, 71-54, and has to only defeat Springstead at home this Tuesday to complete a perfect regular season.
The Eagles (12-8) have some momentum after collecting a 64-60 overtime win over Central on Friday. Robert Gomez and Jeffery Cotnoir scored 17 points apiece, while Noah Torkelson added 15. Cotnoir also had 11 rebounds and six assists.
Springstead had dropped a game at Fivay on Monday, 59-55, then bounced back to best Weeki Wachee on Wednesday, 70-46.
Hernando Christian Academy’s girls wrapped up their regular season at 20-2 with a 69-20 loss at Tampa-Carrollwood Day on Friday. The Lady Patriots (23-2) are coached by veteran mentor Karim Nohra, who took Academy at the Lakes to the Final Four five times in the previous six seasons.
Weeki Wachee (18-7) garnered a 57-49 triumph over Springstead on Friday as it prepares to host next week’s 6A-7 Tournament as the second seed.
Hernando (16-6) will be the third seed, and comes in off a 48-40 win over Springstead on Tuesday and a 62-28 thumping of South Sumter on Friday. Nakayla Roberts scored 23 points versus the Lady Eagles to go with 10 rebounds and four steals. She added 17 points and three steals against the Lady Raiders, and teammate Ali Bronson chipped in 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
Springstead (10-8) had a rough week against county foes, also falling to Central on Monday, 56-51. The Lady Bears (11-10) followed with a 46-35 victory over Fivay on Tuesday.
Last Saturday, three county wrestling team earned tournament titles. Hernando won the Ed Kilpatrick Tournament at Citrus, while Springstead took the Land O’ Lakes Duals and Weeki Wachee placed first at Fivay’s Falcon Duals.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.