Wolverines’ coach banks on wishbone
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.”
Apopka head coach Rick Darlington and the Blue Darters participated in a clinic at West Orange Saturday.