For the first time in its history, the Weeki Wachee football program will have a new man at the helm and this week the school officially announced the hiring of Jacob Gray as head coach.
The 25-year-old Gray was plucked off the coaching staff of Jacksonville-Bolles, where he served as special teams coordinator for the Class 4A state runner-up Bulldogs.
“I’m very excited. I think that the administration has put together a very good thing over there,” Gray said. “After working for such a great coach (at Bolles) in Corky Rogers, I thought I was ready to take the big jump to run a program for myself. I wanted to move to a town similar to Spring Hill and Weeki Wachee. When this opportunity to become a head coach came open, there was no way I could turn it down.”
Athletic director Mark Lee, the Hornets’ original head football coach who stepped down at the end of this past season when the team finished 0-10, said the school received over 80 applications and whittled them down to five finalists before picking Gray.
“He had been at some successful schools and at Bolles being a state runner-up,” Lee said. “All of our finalists that came in did an outstanding job. It was a tough choice. But we just felt that he was the one that fit our needs at this point in time.
“Just with how he presented his action plan for the program and what he wanted to do. His philosophy we felt was a good match and just his eagerness to get after it.”
A Wekiva High graduate, Gray played one season at Tabor College in Kansas before transferring to UCF and earning his degree. He had coaching stints at Orlando-University High and Jacksonville-Mandarin prior to arriving at Bolles. Gray has already joined the faculty at Weeki Wachee, teaching geometry.
“It has gone very well. I was able to watch the kids lift,” Gray said. “They’re doing a very good job getting after it in the weight room. The school itself is run very efficiently. It’s a great place to work.”
Over their first five seasons of varsity competition, the Hornets have struggled to turn the corner. Going 4-6 in 2015 represents their best showing, and they’ve yet to advance to postseason play.
The graduation of quarterback Alec Cromie, who was an early signing at Division II Tusculum College in Tennessee, combined with Lee’s resignation likely signals a departure from the pass-heavy offense that has defined Weeki Wachee’s football identity. Gray indicated that he hoped to have a more balanced attack.
Lee’s entire coaching staff remains in place, said Gray, adding that he’ll continue to concentrate on special teams and believes calling plays is tough to juggle along with the other responsibilities of the head coach. He said to expect high levels of organization and intensity moving forward.
“The makeup of the kids we had at Bolles is similar to the makeup of the kids we have here,” Gray said. “They want to get better. They’ve got good football intelligence. They’ve got good competitiveness. I think it’ll be a smooth transition because I’m working with the same type of athletes.
“I want our practices to be similar to the way college teams practice. Disciplined, run very efficient. Those are all things we did (at Bolles) and I think we can bring that over here.”
Gray wants to put an emphasis on sending players to college, building on what the program has already done in that area with the likes of Cromie and former left tackle Marcus Applefield, currently playing at Rutgers.
“Secondly, I want to be known in the area as a place that does things the right way and be highly competitive every game,” Gray said. “The kids and the coaches need to be ready to work. We need to be able to show good effort in a highly organized program.
“I’m focused on winning here, not just next year but down the road. I absolutely love the town, I love the school. I plan on staying for quite a while.”
Also, Gray views Lee as a valuable resource, given his predecessor’s knowledge of the players and opposing teams.
“I told every single finalist we talked to, ‘Do not be looking over your shoulder.’ I want what’s best for the program,” Lee said. “I thought stepping down was the best thing and bringing in a new person. I put a lot of time into the program. I want it to be successful regardless of who is in charge.
“I think it’s good. We’ve got some kids out of their comfort zone a little bit. They don’t know the new coach; the new coach doesn’t know them. Everybody has a new start and they know they have to prove themselves to the coach.”
With winter sports winding down, boys basketball district tournaments were held this week. Second-seeded Central defeated top-seeded Nature Coast in the 6A-7 final at Citrus on Friday, after defeating seventh-seeded Weeki Wachee on Monday, 70-50, and third-seeded Citrus on Wednesday, 45-39.
The Sharks received a first-round bye and knocked off fourth-seeded Crystal River in Wednesday’s semifinals, 70-52. On Tuesday, Crystal River beat fifth-seeded Hernando, 66-53. Muhannad Abdaldean led the Leopards (8-18) with 20 points and eight rebounds, while Ygenio Booker scored 19 points and Tavis Drake hauled in 11 boards.
Springstead competed in the 7A-8 Tournament at Mitchell and lost a heartbreaker in Wednesday’s semifinals, 55-54 in overtime against second-seeded Land O’ Lakes. Robert Gomez scored 23 points for the third-seeded Eagles (14-10), and Sincere Torain added 11.
Weeki Wachee’s wrestling team defeated Central in a Senior Night match on Wednesday, adding to its new county record of now 29 dual wins.
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.