Although Geno Thompson is replacing Mike Granato as WO’s head football coach, the Warrior culture remains the same: Sacrifice me for we.
Geno Thompson, a native of the Ocoee area and former Warrior, has accepted the position of head coach of the football team for West Orange High School.
“With it being my alma mater, I am humbled,” Thompson said. “It’s truly an honor. I grew up here. I played here, all those things process. The community is really tight-knit.”
Thompson, former defensive coordinator for the team, worked closely with Mike Granato, who recently stepped down as the Warriors head coach and accepted the position of defensive coordinator for Coffee High School in Douglas, Georgia.
“It’s been the honor of my life,” Granato said about coaching at West Orange. “I am completely thankful for the parents, the players, the supporters, the administration, the teachers that I got to work with. I am very grateful to be a first-time football coach at a place as prestigious as West Orange.”
Every year, the football coaches sit down with the team’s seniors and talk through the things they would like to work on during their last season. This year’s meeting happened the same day Granato announced his resignation.
“When Granato mentioned he was going to leave, it was very emotional,” Thompson said. “We sat down, and the first thing we did was talk about what kind of emotions we were going through and then explained to the kids that as of right now, that’s the only change occurring.”
For Granato, leaving for another state is bittersweet. As a native of the Windermere and Winter Garden area, he has mixed emotions about moving to another state and leaving the team he coached for two years.
“I want the people to know that I love this team and I love this town,” he said with a shaky voice filled with emotion. “They will always be my kids; it was an honor to be their coach.”
Fortunately for him and his family, both Granato’s and his wife Katie’s parents still live in the Dr. Phillips and Apopka areas.
“We’ve still got plenty of friends and family we’ve made in this life we call coaching,” he said. “So I won’t be far.”
One of the things Granato will miss the most about being football head coach at West Orange is the feeling in the locker room on a Friday.
“Right before we go out, when the kids are dialed in and excited and everybody is chirping and you can feel the rumbling on the wait room of the fans that are outside,” he said.
Granato emphasized his love for the players, for the team, for his assistant coaches and for West Orange.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to miss being able to talk to those kids, look them in the eyes after a win or after a loss, and tell them how much I love them,” he said.
Part of the team culture Granato built during his time at West Orange, along with his assistant coaches, was that of paving the way for the players to not only graduate on time but also get them into college football.
During his time at West Orange, working with Thompson, Granato led the team to be district champions twice, and the Warriors also were regional finalists. Granato leaves with a record of 18-6. The football team’s Class of 2022 has 12 college signees so far. Two more athletes are already engaged in conversations with different universities that have reached out to them.
Thompson intends to continue the sense of pride instilled in the team in the past two years and will continue pushing his players to move on toward higher education. He attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, after receiving a full academic scholarship through his football career at West Orange.
“A lot of the kids in the team are in the same situation,” he said. “They know that their opportunity to go to higher education is through football. So (I want to) give them the opportunity to earn scholarships and allow them to be good leaders in the community.”
In the past nine years, 89 West Orange student-athletes signed to different colleges to play football at the collegiate level while pursuing their degrees.
Moving forward, the Warriors are excited to have Thompson as their head coach; he is someone they already know and trust. This year, one of the things the seniors want to work on alongside their new head coach is the mindset of the word “we” within the term “team.”
“They came up with the motto ‘sacrifice me for we,’” he said.
The Warriors have a tough schedule next year, as they seek another deep run into districts and beyond. Still, although the overall goal is long, the way there is to take it one game at a time.
“We always say that one individual, myself included, does not make this team,” Thompson said. “It’s about everyone putting in the effort and energy together to reach the common goal.”
Thompson will serve as both head coach and defensive coordinator until he is able to find a coordinator the kids trust and rally behind.
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