- August 25, 2022
Despite the incredible year the Ocoee High School football team experienced, Aaron Sheppard stepped down from the head coach position not soon after, leaving former defensive coordinator — and now new head coach — Sheddrick “Buck” Gurley in charge.
“Coach Shepp did a whole lot of things with his four to five years here, so I knew once he made the announcement, some of the kids would be down,” Gurley said. “Keeping a couple of familiar faces in here, I thought that that would bring the morale back up, and it did. The kids were super excited once they found out that I was the one who took the job. And they also were even more excited when they found out (all the other coaches) were remaining.
“We built the bond with these kids, we built a great relationship with these kids, and it’s basically our duty to keep that bond relationship going really nice,” Gurley said.
Football wasn’t a passion for Gurley during the early years of his childhood. In fact, he did not start playing until he was 10 years old.
“I would say around my middle school years is when things started getting a little serious,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe it, but I was a quarterback starter then. So, I tell people that and they’re like, ‘Nah, are you kidding me?’ But, I wasn’t always this big.”
At 6-foot-3, Buck — as one of his uncles used to call him from age 4 — attended the University of Florida with a four-year scholarship and went on to play professional football for different teams: the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It was crazy, because I never can’t say I never dreamed of (playing professional football), that would be absolutely wrong,” he said. “Every kid has the dream to play professionally, right? It was one of those things that I love and I just worked hard at it, knowing that it could provide me a different life and a different lifestyle (so) I decided to make it my purpose.”
Over the years, Gurley — or Coach Buck — as he is known to Ocoee Knights family, has moved around the football field a bit. He played quarterback in middle school then in high school got some fullback playing time as a linebacker, tight end and even kicker.
Through his high school years at Amos P. Godby High School in Tallahassee, Gurley was a multi-sport student-athlete as he engaged in football, track and field, basketball, weightlifting and, for one season only, baseball.
“Baseball and track and field kind of ran in the same season, so it was too much to bear,” he said. “So, I decided to focus on track and field instead.”
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
Gurley’s love for coaching came years after he had retired from professional football.
“Post-career, I ended up going to Georgia and just kind of wanted to live the retired life, but, of course, God had His unique way of steering me back into football,” he said.
Gurley started as an interim football coach for Sequoyah High School, where he helped build the program for three years. Then, he returned to his alma mater, Amos P. Godby, as the assistant coach and defensive line coach for a few years. Programs like Lake Mary Prep and Colonial High School also benefitted from Gurley’s input and knowledge of the sports prior to him landing in Ocoee.
“I just knew that Ocoee needed some guidance, and they got it from Aaron Sheppard,” Gurley said. “Once I found out he had the job, I think the second year, he came to me saying, ‘Hey, I know you, I could use your help.’”
Fun fact: Sheppard and Gurley are brothers-in-law, and for the last three years, the pair had been working together to build the Knights’ culture.
“I think Sheppard did a marvelous job of taking Ocoee (to) where it needs to be,” he said. “From here, I just need to come in and maintain it. We both sat down for a long time and talked about school culture, motivating. We talked about getting kids into college, we talked about building this whole family, and, again, that’s what brought me here. So I just want to make sure we continue that.”
As head coach at Ocoee High, Gurley is hoping to build a close relationship with the high school’s feeder schools, so students are aware they are wanted in Ocoee and belong in the Knight family once they step foot into high school.
“We are going to put a lot of season focus to put a lot of off-season focus on making sure that our kids that belong to this school, go to this school and stay in this school,” he said.
The opportunity to step into the head coaching role at Ocoee is providing Gurley a chance to continue to pass along all the knowledge he has garnished over the year pertaining the sport of football.
“Coaching gives me the opportunity to mentor; it’s kind of my calling,” he said. “I use this as a platform to teach young men how to be successful in life. It’s just not about the game, but a lot of the stuff that they can take from sports, they can end up applying to their lives and become very successful person. And, that’s what we are looking to do here. Of course, within that, you have to build a bond, and I want these guys to understand: Once you leave it doesn’t stop, it continues. You become alumni of the school, but that doesn’t mean you leave the school.”