SIDELINE SCENE: Spring football marks new beginning for three programs with new coaches
| 8:57 a.m. April 30, 2015
The weather was overcast, but for people who love high school football, Monday might as well have been a sunny day.
Programs throughout Orange County, and most of the state for that matter, took the field for the first day of spring football practice on April 27. And although there is always an air of excitement on the first day of practice for any program, for three area schools, it was a particularly exciting day.
Olympia, Ocoee and CFCA are all hitting the field for the first time under new head coaches Kyle Hayes, Ben Bullock and John Davis, respectively — and all three are hoping to capitalize on that early excitement to get the spring started on the right foot.
“It’s a new day, a new school,” Bullock said. “Anytime anything is new, it’s going to be exciting.”
They may be new faces to West Orange County, but all three coaches have significant experience, including time as assistants at the college level. It was no wonder then that, although Monday was Hayes’ first official practice as head coach of the Olympia Titans, the veteran coach from South Florida looked right at home walking the Titans’ practice field, hollering instructions as the team went about getting back to basics on Day 1.
“We have to take baby steps,” said Hayes, who takes over a program that went 1-8 in 2014. “It’s all new to them. It’s going to be an all-new offense, all-new defense (and) all-new terminology. Like I told the guys the other day, ‘We’re starting in football kindergarten.’ … That’s just kind of where we are right now. We’ve got to just kind of retrain the brain and get them accustomed to how we are as coaches.”
Similarly, since taking the head job at Ocoee, Bullock has been working to prep his guys for the first day of practice. The enthusiastic new leader for the Knights said there will be an emphasis on getting the most out of every practice this spring on into the fall — practices that players can expect to be an up-beat tempo.
“(Establishing the tempo) is going to be the most important thing that we’re doing … what we want to do is get there (the first day) and be ready to go,” Bullock said. “What we don’t want is the opposite, where we’re slowing everything down and we’re stopping to teach one kid while 30 other kids are standing around. We want to teach that one kid, but while everyone else is doing this mass activity. Everyone is getting better; we’re not wasting a moment.”
The new Ocoee coach is looking to get his players to buy into a process-driven environment in which every detail matters.
“Even how you hang your locker, how you hang your helmet — everything has got to be detail-oriented,” Bullock said.
Whereas Bullock is coming over to the Knights from Mount Dora and Hayes is coming to the Titans from South Florida, Davis has undoubtedly made the biggest leap in accepting his new post and moving to Central Florida all the way from the Washington, D.C., area. As he continues to settle in and get practice rolling, the former assistant at Gallaudet University seems to be finding CFCA to be a great fit.
“I’m adjusting to Florida really well,” Davis said. “I feel like, being at CFCA, I’m around a great group of people every day, and that’s helped ease my transition. … It’s exactly what I was looking for when I decided to make the move to Florida. It’s an inclusive community.”
Also differentiating Davis from Bullock and Hayes is the state of the program he has inherited. Whereas Ocoee and Olympia had three wins between them in 2014, the Eagles went 8-4 in what was arguably the program’s strongest season. Part of Davis’ challenge is to motivate players to not become complacent and find ways to get even more out of the Eagles’ roster, which has increased depth as a result of growing interest in the program.
“Going back and watching the tape, kind of going over last year’s season, I’m actually really impressed with the quality of skill guys,” Davis said. “There is a couple of other kids who are on the team now who I feel like can have a high impact, especially with the offense that we’re installing.”
With so much to accomplish and so little time, the task ahead of these new coaches could seem daunting. Rather, each seems up for the challenge and excited to see the players they have been working to get to know over the past few weeks in full-speed practice setting — and eventually a game setting by spring’s end.
“Now we’ve got 20 days to see who we are and find out who we are,” Bullock said.