Even though the sport of football is popular in the United States, it is not a common sports in other countries around the world.
However, this year, the Windermere High School football team is a melting pot of players representing 16 different countries, including South Africa, Iran, Serbia, Haiti, Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, England, Germany, Italy, St. Martin and Canada.
“A lot of players haven’t played American football before,” Windermere head football coach Riki Smith said. “So, the buying-in process was easier for them, because they just liked being a part of the team. They are smart, and they listen well. We are making an effort to expedite the learning curve to coach them up to be good football players.”
For Carson Toughey (South Africa), Joao Araujo (Brazil) and Adam Vucic (Serbia), being a part of the Wolverines gives them a place to make deeper connections.
“You make great relationships on and off the field with your teammates, athletic trainers and even managers,” Vucic, 16, said. “So, it’s just a great camaraderie sport, because of the brotherhood that you (create) with your teammates and just a very physical sport.”
And so far, the melting pot is working. The Wolverines (3-0) are one of three of the area’s unbeaten teams. What’s more, this year’s team made school history Friday, Sept. 1, during the game against Cypress Creek when it broke the school record for points (65).
“I guess that’s an accomplishment,” Smith said. “But, I’m more concerned about the week to week — just improving every week to be a complete football team.”
“The team this year feels very good,” Toughey said. “There’s just a different kind of brotherhood. Everyone seems to work really well together, and everyone is in all the way. Everyone is here to play — not half and half — and everyone wants it.”
“Making history is fun, but we are not done yet,” Araujo said. “We just want to keep going and keep getting better and improving as the season goes on. It’s just small steps to a bigger goal.”
Despite still having their eyes set on the “Build” phase of the team, this year the Wolverines added a new mindset: “The Standard.”
“We have it painted in the weight room,” Smith said. “We are focusing on the standard of Windermere football. The standard is at (a certain level), and moving forward you need to be at this level or height to be a part of the Windermere football team. … We are getting it through hard work, dedication, commitment, love for each other and no selfishness. (We are a) team.”
In Windermere High’s history, no coach prior to Smith had stayed as the head of the football program for more than one season.
“It’s nice to have a coach that is actually here,” Toughey said. “It’s nice to have some structure.”
“Having coach Smith here the whole time — since my freshman year — just builds a sense of trust,” Araujo said. “You can trust that coach is going to be by your side every step of the way, and you don’t have a feeling that he’s going to leave you for someplace else. It’s nice, because it just makes you feel like you are cared for, and it translates onto the field.”
For Smith, it is the continuity and the consistency that makes a difference in the way a team is built — and the way it performs on the field.
“Me being here longer than a year — it makes them feel more at ease and more confident,” he said. “They are able to give more, because they know that I’m going to be here.”
Players and coaches at Windermere have learned this season the main focus of the team cannot be an overall season record but, instead, a week-by-week standard.
“Just focus on the now: every day, every week, every game, no looking ahead, no projecting,” Smith said. “Just focus on what you can control that individual day. Our motto is, ‘We want to win the week.’ We are trying to go 1-0 every week, and it goes no further than that.”