Wolver­ines’ coach banks on wish­bone

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Jeff Gar­de­nour

Tak­ing over af­ter Win­der­mere High’s 0-10 in­au­gu­ral sea­son, vet­eran foot­ball coach Fred Priest is go­ing with the wish­bone to try to boost an of­fense that didn’t score a TD last sea­son.

With his dark sun­glasses, chis­eled fa­cial fea­tures, thick mus­tache and ball cap, Fred Priest sort of re­sem­bles the late Dale Earn­hardt.

But when his gravely voice barks, he is in a race for per­fec­tion on the foot­ball field, not on a NASCAR track.

“This is not about you, but about ev­ery­one around you,” Priest preached to his play­ers on a hot Sat­ur­day morn­ing at Lake How­ell High School.

A grid­iron vet­eran who has coached the game for 42 years and in five states (Michi­gan, Colorado, Kansas, Ge­or­gia and Florida), Priest is cur­rently di­a­gram­ming X’s and O’s for the fledg­ling Win­der­mere High pro­gram. He suc­ceeded Greg Miller as head coach in the off­sea­son af­ter the Wolver­ines stum­bled to an 0-10 record and failed to score an of­fen­sive touch­down in their de­but sea­son of 2017.

In a few short months, Win­der­mere is mak­ing progress un­der Priest. The Wolver­ines scored an of­fen­sive TD for the first time in a 41-21 loss against Holy Trin­ity Epis­co­pal of Melbourne in a spring game in May.

On Sat­ur­day, as part of the Cen­tral Florida Of­fi­cials As­so­ci­a­tion pre­sea­son clin­ics at sites such as Lake How­ell and West Or­ange, Win­der­mere showed flashes of im­prove­ment on the de­fen­sive side of the ball in a 14-0 scrim­mage loss to Lake How­ell. Of­fen­sively, the Wolver­ines hurt them­selves with er­ratic snap­ping and turnovers in the one half of play.

Win­der­mere was one of eight schools to par­tic­i­pate in a four-hour scrim­mage set up to train of­fi­cials for the 2018 sea­son.

Priest was one of five new head coaches at the scrim­mage, join­ing Lake How­ell’s Shaun Loren­zano, Cy­press Creek’s Bob Goebel, Win­ter Springs’ Steve Mik­les and Lib­erty’s Brandon Pen­ning­ton.

“I was re­ally a lit­tle bit dis­ap­pointed,” Priest said. “I didn’t think we showed what we have been show­ing in prac­tice.

“I didn’t ex­pect to strug­gle of­fen­sively. I thought our de­fense played re­ally, re­ally well.”

The Wolver­ines cer­tainly showed bite de­fen­sively. They forced Lake How­ell to punt and to turn the ball over on downs on its first two pos­ses­sions. But then the Sil­ver Hawks re­turned an in­ter­cep­tion 19 yards for a touch­down and then scored on a quick fade to the end zone fol­low­ing a Win­der­mere turnover.

“We gave them the pick-6 and we gave them a point­blank ranger [on the touch­down pass],” Priest said. “I’m not go­ing to put any­thing on the de­fense. I re­ally thought they played re­ally well.”

Win­der­mere’s of­fense is a dif­fer­ent story, how­ever. But Priest said he will stick with the wish­bone de­spite sev­eral bad snaps and mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Win­der­mere ran a spread of­fense last sea­son.

“We’re run­ning the wish­bone. That’s what we’re in. That’s what we do,” he said.

Priest seems to be hav­ing no trou­ble ac­cli­mat­ing to be­ing a head coach again af­ter more than a decade do­ing other things. He served as ath­letic di­rec­tor at Apopka High for six years be­fore tak­ing the same po­si­tion at Win­der­mere for its in­au­gu­ral 2017-18 school year. He is now an as­sis­tant ath­letic di­rec­tor at Win­der­mere, which gives him more time to fo­cus on get­ting the Wolver­ines into the win col­umn.

Priest has tasted suc­cess be­fore, hav­ing led The First Acad­emy to the play­offs in the 2005-06 sea­sons — his last stint as head coach.

“In 2005, we lost one game be­fore the fi­nal four to the even­tual state cham­pi­ons,” Priest said.

His en­thu­si­asm and con­fi­dence has rubbed off on his play­ers. Se­nior quar­ter­back Isa­iah Jack­son, who scored the school’s first-ever touch­down in the spring game, said Win­der­mere can do bet­ter of­fen­sively.

“I think we can do way more bet­ter than we did last year,” Jack­son said. “We showed in the spring that we can do much bet­ter.”

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Apopka head coach Rick Dar­ling­ton and the Blue Darters par­tic­i­pated in a clinic at West Or­ange Sat­ur­day.

Priest

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