The Ocoee Knights have their man.
Ben Bullock is the new head football coach at Ocoee High School, taking over for Dale Salapa, who resigned in November after compiling a 7-23 record in his three seasons at the helm.
Bullock comes to the Knights from Mount Dora High School, where he led the Hurricanes to an 8-3 record as the program’s head coach in 2014 and as its defensive coordinator for the two seasons prior to that.
Bullock has college experience, also, and was previously at Hartwick College, a Division III program in Oneonta, New York.
On Monday, Ocoee Athletic Director Steve McHale said he believed the program had found a young, up-and-coming coach capable of guiding the Knights to the next level.
“He’s the total package,” McHale said. “He brings a lot of enthusiasm. I like it that he’s young and the kids can relate to him. You don’t see a lot of coaches that young with his level of experience.”
For his part, Bullock said the Ocoee job seemed to be a great fit for him and his family.
“The biggest thing was just, as I look at Ocoee, there’s a lot of potential for growth,” Bullock said. “It’s a program that has a great community and a great Pop Warner system in the Ocoee Bulldogs. … It’s in a district that is very competitive that will be a lot of fun to coach in.”
Coming from a Lake County program, Bullock has some familiarity with some of his new Class 7A District 4 foes, with Lake County opponents such as Lake Minneola and East Ridge.
Bullock noted that in addition to the tremendous potential he feels the program at Ocoee has, his family also resides in the area near the Orange County/Seminole County border, and that his new commute will be shorter.
Bullock met with his players last week and said the initial meet-and-greet went well. McHale, who is entering his second year as the Knights’ athletic director, said he already has noticed excitement from returning players.
“The energy level and enthusiasm (have improved),” McHale said. “You can see right off the bat — the kids are walking a little taller.”
Bullock said his program would be headlined by a process-driven philosophy and that practices would be up-tempo to keep players engaged and enthused. He also said helping players get to college would be a priority.
“I told them, ‘We’ll work our tails off to find colleges for any of you guys, from (Division I FBS programs) to (Division III programs) — but you’ve got to buy into our system, and that will make you recruitable,’” Bullock said.
Bullock has a defensive background but said he knows that, as a head coach, he has to work to pay attention to all facets. The new leader for the Knights has an idea of the style of football he would like his program to play, including being an aggressive team on both sides of the ball.
Ocoee was 2-8 in 2014 and is 9-41 dating back to 2010; the Knights went 7-4 in 2009 and made an appearance in a postseason bowl game. Despite the program’s recent history, Bullock said he believes all the conditions were present for a successful program to emerge at Ocoee — and that he’s not concerned with what has already happened.
“The past is last,” Bullock said. “I don’t care what happened the last 10 years in the program. We’re building a foundation for now. I’m worried about the future and taking it one step at a time. … Coach Salapa a did great job of building a foundation, and I’m just trying to build off of that.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].