With the first regular-season games set to kick off Friday, Aug. 27, we’re getting you ready for all the action on the gridiron this year.
This edition, the third and final in our series, features the private and charter school football programs in the West Orange and Southwest Orange coverage areas. These include Foundation Academy, Legacy Charter, First Academy, Central Florida Christian Academy and Windermere Prep.
Foundation Academy rolls into a new year with a new face at the helm. Former football coach Brad Lord has taken the position of football operations and athletic collegiate placement director, and he has given the reins to new head coach — and longtime assistant — Andre Walker.
Walker, a Georgia Military College graduate, is in his first head coaching position, but he brings a culture of success after working under Lord for years and his experience being an assistant coach at Lakeland High School.
“It’s an absolute treasure,” Walker said. “I relish this moment, because it’s something I’ve been wanting for a long time. I’m a Lakeland boy … and we’re known for winning.”
Walker walks into a good situation. The Lions finished 2020 9-2 with a regional championship. They scored more than 300 points and allowed only 125. In the FHSAA Class 2A Playoffs, they went to the state semifinals before falling to University Christian.
This season, Foundation will have the task of replacing several key players to keep their success going. Offensive lineman Hunter Moss transferred to West Orange High School, and former linebacker Danny Stutsman is at the University of Oklahoma. Other notable departures are Scotty West and Greyson Labiad.
With all that talent leaving, there has been some coming in, as well. Quarterback Greg Jones transferred from South Lake and will have an immediate impact for the Lions. In 2020, he threw for 728 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Eagles.
Another notable player is offensive utility player Noah Kapusta. Kapusta comes in as a transfer from Celebration High School and can play quarterback, running back and safety.
The defense returns nine starters, which gives Walker the confidence the defense once again will be a strength.
THE FIRST ACADEMY
The First Academy Royals look to build off a strong 2020 campaign that didn’t end quite the way they had hoped. After going through the regular season undefeated — and scoring almost 300 points and allowing fewer than 100 — they fell in the Class 3A quarterfinals to John Carroll Catholic on a Hail Mary pass in the final seconds.
“I was the defensive coordinator, so that wasn’t fun,” defensive coordinator Tom Laegeler said.
This year, they hope to get a bit further.
“(Head) coach (Leroy Kenard) says that we’re on a path to getting better every week,” Laegeler said. “We have some talent on the team; we don’t have a lot of numbers. Our challenge is going to be finding the best way to make use of our talent and stay healthy and try to be there at the end.”
The Royals have several key players returning. Among those are running back Terrance Mosley and receiver Dinari Bennett. Several key starters on the defensive line also return.
Along with these familiar faces, some new ones are ready to make their mark. Junior quarterback James McGinn was the backup last year to the recently graduated Sean Johnson Jr. With the personnel he has with him in Bennett and Mosley, McGinn will not be expected to carry much of the weight on offense.
“The running game is always a big portion of what we do, because we’re a wing team group,” Laegeler said. “We’re going to be depending on that wing to establish what our personality is: a hard-nosed, blue-collar, physical football team.”
The Royals will be playing top-flight opponents — West Oaks Academy, Windermere Prep and Orlando Christian Prep — to begin the season. Laegeler sees those games as a chance to show off that blue-collar mentality.
“You’re going to have to grow week to week and not rest on any laurels,” Laegeler said.
CENTRAL FLORIDA CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
A new season brings new optimism for every team. For Central Florida Christian Academy, it is a chance to build on a 5-1 regular season and take the next step to being a team others don’t want to play.
“We want to be competitive,” head coach Jeremy Campbell said. “We’re ready to show that the old CFCA is gone. Whether we are outnumbered or playing a better team, we’re going to compete.”
With a team of only 25 this year after most of their players graduated, Campbell and his team are having to start over again with only three seniors. The arrival of transfer quarterback Jacob Kenya from South Lake and two-way lineman Xavier Wood has the Eagles expecting the quality of their players to outweigh their small numbers.
“They’re athletic, strong and compete well; you can’t ask for anything more than that,” Campbell said. “I haven’t been around a group of competitors like this in a long time.”
The Eagles’ schedule this year includes a rematch against Mount Dora Christian, the team that eliminated them in the playoffs last year, as well as key games against St. Petersburg Catholic and Trinity Prep.
With a young team, there are going to be some growing pains along the way, but Campbell is excited to see how his young team develops as the season unfolds.
“They’re very talented and waiting for an opportunity,” Campbell said. “I’m thankful we’re in a position where we can afford them an opportunity to get on the field and play so they can show their talents. The future is bright.”
The Windermere Prep Lakers look to work their way back to the standard they set with a 9-1 season in 2018 after what can be considered two consecutive disappointing seasons.
To return to that success, they have a new head coach in Brian Simmons, who served as defensive coordinator for two years before taking over for former head coach Jacob Doss.
Although this is his first job as a head coach, Simmons isn’t going to let anyone see him sweat.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I have a good coaching staff, and we have kids who work hard and love football. We’ve got to get everybody on the same page …and get those parts together before we kick off next week.”
Simmons played as a linebacker in the NFL from 1998 to 2007. He spent his first nine seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals before going to the New Orleans Saints for one year. After retiring as a player, Simmons became a scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars before making his way into coaching. He has been with Windermere Prep since 2015.
With his defensive background, Simmons has an idea of what he wants the Lakers’ defense to be.
“Our motto is we want to be smart, tough and together,” Simmons said. “We want to be smart football players; we want to be tough both physically and mentally; and we want to play as a team.”
He certainly will have the team to do that. The Lakers return several key starters on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Zane Fullmer, running back Jackson Bennett and receiver Mason Williams highlight the offense, while Jacob Lowe is a key returner on defense.
The Lakers will be up against a tough schedule, as well. Games against First Academy, IMG Academy and Lake Highland are among the highlights the year.
“Every week, we are working to get better,” he said. “If (the players) do what they need to do in terms of practicing the way they practice, the way they recover, the way they train. If you respect he process, game days will take care of themselves.”
Legacy Charter head coach Trent Hopper and his players could not be happier for the 2021 regular season to get here. After a 6-2 regular season in 2020, which ended with a close loss to Windermere Prep in the state playoffs, the Eagles were ready to come back and get started.
“It was the longest offseason,” Hopper said. “We’re very excited for the summer to be over.”
This year’s team, however, will look much different from last year’s squad. Although the offense retains personnel such as running back Jayden Oyola, quarterback Jayden Colon and receiver Jared Adams, the defense lost multiple contributing seniors in Wyatt Powell, William Walker and Noah Velazquez.
However, they retain sack leader Justice Russo, who led the Eagles with seven sacks last year. Defensive backs Colby McClure and Kenny Jackson return, as well.
That competitiveness will be needed against a tough schedule. Home games against teams such as Gateway Charter and Cocoa Beach, along with road games against St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Augustine and Santa Fe Catholic in Lakeland, highlight the Eagles’ schedule this season.
Even with a long travel schedule, Hopper is confident in how his team will respond.
“They’re not a shy away bunch,” Hopper said. “It’s going to test their stomach at first, but they’ll be better for it.”
Hopper’s biggest goal is getting the full season in and staying healthy as COVID-19 continues to spread through Central Florida.