With almost all the stars from the 2014 undefeated team graduating, new faces will guide the Windermere Prep football program into the next era — starting with the Lakers’ spring game May 19.
WINDERMERE When the Windermere Prep Lakers take the field May 19 against West Palm Beach’s Berean Christian, the best indicator of the new era the program is entering will be who is taking the snaps.
For the first time in more than four years, the starting quarterback for the Lakers will not be Parker Davis. Davis, a senior, is readying for graduation and looking forward to a collegiate basketball career at Rollins College in Winter Park.
The departure of the standout signal-caller is the most obvious in a greater sea change for a program that has seen nearly all of the key playmakers from its undefeated, Sunshine State Athletic Conference-champion team of 2014 graduate.
So what does the future hold for Windermere Prep as it looks to conclude its spring season? What sort of identity will the Lakers craft for themselves as they turn their attention to the fall?
Surprisingly, for a team at an academic institution such as Windermere Prep — and thanks in part to an investment in strength and conditioning on the part of the school — the new adjective to best describe the Lakers might just be “bruising.”
“The kids we have — they’re strong kids,” Lakers head coach Jacob Doss said. “These are kids who have had the benefit of (Windermere Prep strength) coach (Kyle) Gilbert for four years now. I think we will have a bruising mentality. … They crave the weight room — they want to be there.”
The outlook Doss has isn’t unique to him, either. Mason Russell, a rising sophomore fullback/linebacker for Windermere Prep and an example of the Lakers’ pivot toward physicality with his own bruising running style, sums up the team’s new identity in three words.
“Big, strong, physical,” Russell said. “We’re still a little young, but we definitely have really good, athletic kids.”
In a conference such as the SSAC, which features similarly sized private schools, that physical edge the Lakers believe they have can go a long way.
“We feel better prepared and that we have more stamina,” rising senior Mitchell Darrow said. “Really, you have more confidence when going up against your opponent.”
Darrow is the one notable holdover from the Lakers’ championship season. As a sophomore, teammates voted über-athletic Darrow as the team’s defensive MVP in 2014 and as the team’s overall MVP for 2015. He was also a captain as a junior.
“These are kids who have had the benefit of (Windermere Prep strength) coach (Kyle) Gilbert for four years now. I think we will have a bruising mentality. … They crave the weight room — they want to be there.”
Jacob Doss, football coach
And although Darrow has been asked by Doss to do a little of everything over the years, he has always had his eye on the quarterback position, and that job is likely his going forward.
“He’s a winner … he’s that kid that people will follow him — he’s got that presence,” Doss said of Darrow. “He has no problem running the football, and that’s something we like to see him do.”
Between Darrow and Russell, Doss envisions a rush-heavy attack that can still throw it around to a talented receiver such as Will Seelman. The offensive line for the Lakers boasts experience and has made substantial strength gains in the offseason, so Windermere Prep will want to become a team that dictates the tempo of a game and controls the clock.
On defense, although there are holes that need filling from graduation, a transition to a 3-4 scheme has been embraced by the program as an imperative in a conference like the SSAC, to where many teams are looking spread out the defense.
One thing the Lakers will have to contend with in 2016 is an ever-improving SSAC. The league itself, which Windermere Prep dominated in 2014, had an improved feel in 2015. Working in the Lakers’ favor, though, is a feeling of continuity as Doss has kept his staff almost entirely intact over the past six seasons.
“I think that (winning) culture has been created here … the kids have bought in,” Doss said. “I think this is a very unique place to work. … We really protect this place; it’s something that we love.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].