- March 30, 2021
Joe Rienzi is a man ready to lead.
Those under his guidance are yet to be determined, but he knows the new football program at Lake Buena Vista High School will be a part of something special.
Rienzi was announced as the school’s first football coach in mid-December. But when he first applied to the school, it didn’t even have a name. It simply was called either 80-H-SW-4 or the Dr. Phillips/Freedom relief school.
“When I went in for the first interview, the school didn’t have a name or a mascot or anything,” Rienzi said. “I sat there, after the first interview, and watched when the county had everyone discussing the name and things like that … and I saw the people who spoke and how much that name Lake Buena Vista meant to them.
“When the district representative was giving the name to the high school and voted on Lake Buena Vista, it was something they were very passionate about,” he said. “Being in the community, you can feel it. I’ve talked with people — they’re excited — and they’re looking forward to supporting this new school.”
Rienzi was never much of a football player.
During his four years at St. Cloud High School in Osceola County, Rienzi often stayed banged up before moving into the realm of sports journalism when he made the move to the University of South Florida. There, he took sports writing and editing responsibilities for The Oracle — the school’s newspaper.
“I was at football practice every day, and I was like, ‘This is all right, but this isn’t what I want to do,’” Rienzi said. “Just being around practice, I just wanted to be involved.”
Fueled by his passion for the sport and need to get involved with it, Rienzi jumped into coaching. He got started with a Little League organization in Tampa before finding his first opportunity in football at Harmony High School in Osceola County.
Rienzi reached out to then-new Harmony head coach Jerrad Butler — a former teacher of Rienzi — who let him coach the freshman receivers and defensive backs, before moving up through different roles and eventually becoming the JV offensive coordinator.
After making the move back to his alma mater at St. Cloud, Rienzi once again made his way up the coaching ladder throughout his seven years with the program. He started as the head coach of the freshman/JV team and varsity receivers coach, and ultimately ended his stint at the school as the offensive coordinator under head coach Bryan Smart.
The transition from writing about sports to coaching it has been a time of tremendous growth for Rienzi.
“Everybody thinks they have all the answers when they’re on the outside looking in,” Rienzi said. “I was still a pretty young guy at the time when I got into coaching — I was 21 when I started — and this will be my 13th year as a coach overall So at 21, 22 years old, you think you know everything and then you realize, ‘Hey, maybe I don’t.’ You have to learn about the developing relationships piece, you have to learn the relating with parents piece and stuff like that, but again, between coach Butler and coach Smart, I had two guys who really did a good job of preparing me for this opportunity.”
By taking the mantle of head coach — his first at the varsity level — Rienzi is being challenged in ways that are both familiar and alien.
His new school won’t be open until the fall, which means he doesn’t know who will be a part of his program, and there is currently no place for them to play. Luckily, Rienzi is already plotting his attack.
Rienzi is working on getting his staff put together, and he will be reaching out to students zoned for the school soon so he can relay information about his program. He also plans to hold spring practices and a spring game in what he hopes will be a debut event for the school.
“We’re looking at sites near where Lake Buena Vista High School is going to be, and the players zoned for our school will be able to come out and go through spring practices and have a spring game just like at any other school,” Rienzi said.
Along with logistics, the biggest step for Rienzi is to build a culture for Lake Buena Vista High.
“I don’t want to have a culture for the football team — I want to drive the culture for the entire Lake Buena Vista campus and the entire Lake Buena Vista community,” Rienzi said. “I want it to be a culture that kind of drives everything that’s going on.”