The Windermere High football program has been around for seven seasons. For six of those, the Wolverines had a new coach come each fall, and at season’s end, no team had ever won more than two games.
That is until Dr. Phillips alumnus and former Panthers assistant coach Riki Smith returned for his second season as the Wolverines’ head coach in 2023 and led them to the most wins in school history.
“When I took the job, I remember everyone would tell me, ‘You can’t win at Windermere. They don’t have any players. You’re not going to be able to send them to college,’” Smith said. “A lot of people were saying what we couldn’t do, but I always believed that there were players there, they just needed the right coach to essentially cultivate them and the program.”
Those accomplishments alone would have been enough to call the young program’s 2023 a success. But just before the year made way for 2024, the cherry on top for the Wolverines came in the form of Division I commitments from three of the team’s top graduating seniors in the span of five days.
On Dec. 15, 2023, running back Isaiah Nell committed to play for former Florida coach Jim McElwain at Central Michigan University.
Three days later, kicker Lucas Glassburn announced his commitment to play at Temple University. And the following day, offensive lineman Noah Wright shared his commitment to Bucknell University.
“This year is extremely special, because … the school that no one believes in and everyone says you can’t win at, that you can’t send guys to school from, for us to send three guys D-1 is a blessing,” Smith said. “I’m just proud to be a part of it. But really proud of those three players, because they all bought in. They all had different leadership styles for us, but all three made a choice to say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna roll with coach Smith, and we’re going to get it done.’”
Beyond just trusting Smith and what he and his staff are building at Windermere, the three have been instrumental in establishing the standard of Wolverine football.
“Year three of my vision for the program is to start to build vertically, and Isaiah, Noah and Lucas help with that tremendously,” Smith said. “They made the choice to put 150% into their craft. They worked on their own outside of what I asked them to do.
“They did a lot of things that the average eye doesn’t see, things great players do,” he said. “We all know that great players put the work in when no one’s watching and all of those guys did that. They’ve set the bar to where we can be as a program. It’s been awesome to see, and I’m just so happy for those guys.”
Isaiah Nell, Central Michigan signee
If you take a quick peek at Nell’s highlight tape and his stat line from his senior season — in eight games he gained 1,640 yards and scored 17 total touchdowns for the Wolverines — it’s no wonder both the Central Michigan head coach and offensive coordinator made the trip to make sure they were able to secure the all-purpose back’s commitment.
According to the back, CMU made an impression on him, as well.
“The coaching staff really stood out to me,” Nell said. “When I went on my visit the coaching staff there was really nice. Most of the facilities and stuff around were very new.
“I spent a lot of time talking to the running backs coach and about how they run the ball a lot,” he said. “He’s a very experienced coach, too; he’s sent a lot of guys to the NFL. That specific area too was great for me, because it’s a small town, so there won’t be any distractions when I’m over there, so I’m able to just focus on football and schoolwork.”
Nell, a converted defensive back, is a three-down running back who also excels in the return game with speed that jumps off the screen and allows him to seemingly never get caught by trailing defenders.
“Coach really liked my speed,” Nell said. “So he was always talking about that, saying a lot of people say they’re fast, but then get caught, but on my film, he said I don’t get caught. He wants me to play as like a takeoff guy, so I’m just going to maximize any opportunity I get.”
Noah Wright, Bucknell signee
A 6-foot-4, 275-pound offensive tackle, Wright was a classic bookend tackle for the Wolverines these past two seasons. In his senior year, the team captain didn’t allow a single sack and had 56 pancakes on his way to an All-Metro team selection and first-team All-Orange Observer selection — all reasons he’ll shine in the Patriot League.
However, Wright looked beyond the football program to make his decision.
“I felt the Patriot League is going to be the perfect fit for me; they play schools in the Ivies, which is cool,” Wright said. “But the main reason was, they have a world-class mechanical engineering program, which is something I’ve been interested in for a number of years now, so that’s what really drew me there.”
Despite the obvious draw for why Wright chose to sign with the Bison, he did note one thing most kids from Florida who are heading to the Northeast would have a hard time with: the cold weather.
“I’m super excited to head to Bucknell,” he said. “Obviously, it’s going to be a new experience going from Florida to the Northeast. So I hope I can deal with the cold. Overall, I’m just super excited to get up there and see what college football is like.”
Lucas Glassburn, Temple commit
An All-Metro team selection as a junior, Glassburn scored points in every game he played in for the Wolverines and had 33 touchbacks this past season with range to make kicks up to and beyond 50 yards.
But for the Temple commit, this opportunity is a representation of all the hard work he has done.
“It’s awesome to finally see that all the work I’ve done has finally come to something that feels real now,” he said.
And beyond the football team, Glassburn’s journey to Philadelphia is about more than just his time on the football field; his plan is to go all the way to the medical field.
“So D-1 FBS football is always a plus, but they also have a great medical school,” Glassburn said. “I want to go into the medical field, orthopedics, specifically. They also have some great coaches that have been by my side this whole way and let me know the process by always walking me through each step.”