Former Louisiana State University safety and 2003 national champion Jim Rathmann has made a home for himself as the defensive backs coach at Legacy High this fall.
OCOEE When Jim Rathmann talks about the successes of the Legacy High football program so far this fall, he doesn’t start with the Eagles’ 3-0 record or staunch defense.
No, the first-year defensive backs coach is perhaps most impressed with the discipline and dedication the team has showcased in the classroom.
“The student-athletes you have; they’re just great kids,” Rathmann said. “The average GPA on our football team is 3.6. I haven’t seen that anywhere in my life before.”
Rathmann knows a thing or two about success, too. The new coach for Legacy played safety, slot receiver and returned kicks for the Louisiana State University Tigers for two seasons in 2003 and 2004 — with 2003 being the season the Tigers topped Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in early 2004.
Bringing such a pedigree to a small program such as the Eagles may strike some as strange, but as Rathmann — who lives in Windermere with his wife and two boys, ages 13 and 9 — began to look into the area’s schools, Legacy stood out.
“When I started really looking into what they do here at Legacy High School, I just think they have a special niche that others don’t have,” Rathmann said. “They work a lot with kids on the autism disorder spectrum.”
Eagles head coach Jarrett Wiggers, who doubles as the school’s athletic director, already had set his staff for the fall season when Rathmann reached out about helping — but decided he could make some room after chatting with him.
“I just really liked how he had a passion for helping kids realize their dreams … that’s what resonated with me,” Wiggers said. “We were kind of on the same page, philosophically, from the get-go.”
For the boys, especially the defensive backs with whom Rathmann works the closest, getting to know someone who has reached the top of the college football mountain — and additionally had a career serving in the U.S. Army — has been one opportunity after another to hear some great stories.
“The boys love asking (Rathmann) questions — they’re constantly just picking his brain about how to get to where they want to be,” Wiggers said.
Those stories include what it was like to play under legendary coach Nick Saban (now the head coach at Alabama) and his all-star cast of assistants for that 2003 team that included then-offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher (now the head coach at Florida State) and then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (now the head coach at South Carolina).
“All of them that are head coaches now; they’re head coaches for a reason,” Rathmann said. “They’re some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever come across in my life — especially coach Saban. … He’s the best in the business because he is a machine — he doesn’t stop.”
Although many games stand out in Rathmann’s memory from his playing days, one stands out above the others — playing for a title against the Sooners.
“Prior to us winning it in 2003, it was 1958 when (LSU) won the title last,” explains Rathmann. “So, to be able to play in the Sugar Bowl an hour from Baton Rouge — it basically was like a home game for us — that was tremendous. The amount of support we got from the state, from the fans, from the LSU community itself; it was tremendous.”
Rathmann, who currently works in medical sales, has dived head-first into his role as a coach with the Eagles. Although he had volunteered and worked with teams and players before, this is his first full-time gig as a football coach.
Wiggers said he has been impressed with how evident Rathmann’s selflessness is.
“His motivation has been so much different than what it would be with other guys — he’s more concerned with how he can pour into these kids’ lives,” Wiggers said. “He’s just got a totally different outlook.”
Although the first-year assistant coach is just three games into his first season, Rathmann said he may have found a new passion involving the game he cares so deeply about.
“I really do enjoy it — I love it,” Rathmann said. “This is something I feel I’m going to be doing for a very long time.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at sryzews[email protected].