Windermere Wolverines lay foundation for 1st season during spring -- Observer Preps
The football program for soon-to-be-opened Windermere High is practicing, with head coach Greg Miller and his staff looking to set the tone ahead of the Wolverines' first fall.
| 3:45 p.m. May 12, 2017
HORIZON WEST The sun is beginning to set over the grass field adjacent to Lifebridge Church, and Greg Miller is imploring his athletes to be more physical.
After all, for the football team that Miller is coaching, this May 2 practice session is the first full-contact practice session of the spring season.
In many ways, the scene is reminiscent of any other spring practice session in Central Florida — from the yelling coaches down to the team leaders stepping up to demand accountability from their peers.
It is different, though, and that is because Miller is the first head coach of the Windermere High Wolverines — a program that will not play its official first down of football until the fall.
The team for the soon-to-be-opened relief school will not play an opponent for its spring game, but instead will hold a scrimmage May 20 at Olympia High that Miller wants to double as a community event with activities for families.
Beyond the lack of a traditional spring game, there are other subtle differences.
First, there are no current juniors in the roughly 45 kids who have been participating. Those upperclassmen will remain at West Orange High because they are grandfathered in for their senior year.
Instead, Miller and his staff — which is nearly complete — have a field full of current freshmen and sophomores, along with the promise of incoming eighth-graders who will join the program in the fall.
Furthermore, Miller is a first-time head coach. It is the next progression in a coaching career that has included stints with college and high-school programs.
“It’s a learning process trying to put everything together from scratch. But I have really good support from my administration and from my athletic director and on down to the parents."
— Greg Miller, head coach
And so it will be a tall task for Miller, his coaches and his athletes to build this football program from the ground up — but it is a task they are eager to accept.
“It’s a learning process trying to put everything together from scratch,” Miller said. “But I have really good support from my administration and from my athletic director and on down to the parents.”
The boys who have been practicing for the Wolverines so far this spring are largely West Orange students, and their numbers include several players who suited up for the Warriors’ junior varsity team last fall and a few who played for the varsity team.
Their numbers also include a number of athletes such as Austin Hatcher, a sophomore at West Orange, who is giving high-school football a try for the first time.
“It’s tough — (the coaches) work you hard, but it’s all for the best,” Hatcher said, reflecting on his first football experience so far.
Hatcher has caught Miller’s eye already as a young athlete with untapped potential, and he’s not alone. There is much that the former assistant for the Freedom High Patriots has seen that he has liked through the first two weeks of practice — including, ironically, the team’s physicality.
Miller said for a team with only underclassmen, the size of the athletes who have shown up to help man his offensive and defensive lines has been a pleasant surprise. There is some speed, too.
What he and his staff have recognized, though, is that a summer strength and conditioning program will be as important as the installation of offensive and defensive systems this spring.
“We’ve got some kids (who) are athletes, and they just need some time in the weight room,” Miller said. “I’m hoping over the summer that we can have a good, productive summer.”
Windermere’s inaugural 2017 schedule, which will feature only road games while the team’s off-campus stadium is constructed, has a mix of winnable games and some long shots. The Wolverines will take the field for their first preseason game against West Orange Aug. 18. Two weeks later, they face a Wekiva Mustangs team that is expected to contend for a playoff berth. Later, they’ll end the season against a reinvigorated Olympia Titans squad led by a four-star quarterback in rising senior Joe Milton.
For now, though, that is all still a long way off.
For athletes such as Hatcher, there is the mission of getting this program off the ground — and the pride of being an original.
“Just being the first people to set it — we’re going to be the first team to play for the Windermere Wolverines. It’s going to be great.”
— Austin Hatcher, rising junior
“Just being the first people to set it — we’re going to be the first team to play for the Windermere Wolverines,” Hatcher said. “It’s going to be great.”
It is a sentiment of optimism and excitement that Miller and his staff will look to maintain all the way through the fall.
“Do we have some work to do? Yes,” Miller said. “But we definitely have a good foundation to start off with.”