Local Sports

Red Devils have new look

AVON PARK - Attitude is everything. Simplistic, maybe, but new Avon Park head football coach Wade Jackson wants it no other way. Jackson not only wants to change the attitude toward playing football, but in life as well. “We are going to change the attitude of the kids towards the work ethic, being here, being on time, we as a coaching staff think that has to be changed the most,” said Jackson. The Red Devil coach admitted that change can be difficult and that some kids did not want to make the transformation. Those that did not want to make the commitment are no longer on the team.
“The attitude towards the game of football, how they act in school, how they act on the field,” said Jackson. “They have to be committed to being here, that’s what we are trying to change. We just have to get these kids going in the right direction.” With an emphasis on the basics, Jackson is concentrating on blocking, tackling and running the football. He knows that be able to throw the football is important and plans to utilize play-action and pass formations that are easy for the offense to execute. “Nothing extravagant, it’s not rocket science and too many coaches try to make it rocket science,” Jackson said. “We are going to do things that our kids can do, get confident at and then from there we can add things.” Jackson noted that they will stay within the skill sets of the players they have available. Pointing to last year’s team that went a disappointing 1-9, he commented that you cannot run five-wide when you do not have the receivers or the line to block. “I will say that upfront, it was not the kids fault,” said Jackson. “They were put in a situation where they could not succeed.” Jackson said that when the coaching staff first got together, he emphasized that they were not going to look at the past, but in the back of their minds they had to remember what happened. It was important to him and his coaches that they show they care about the players and do what’s best for them. “Show them how to act, how to work on the football and how to do things right,” the Red Devil coach said. “In a way it’s a good thing because we can start from ground zero and they can look at the things that we want done as a coaching staff and build from there, but also they have to start believing in themselves.” Jackson also realizes that being a head football coach is not restricted to the practice or football field or just with high school students. Academics play a huge part and Jackson pointed out that they already established a study hall every afternoon. He revealed that Avon Park Principal Tealy Williams set up a program with Webber University for tutoring on Wednesdays. “I monitor grades and if they fall below where I think they need to be,” said Jackson, “they will be here in the morning time before school as well. Academically, we have to do that. It all goes back to attitude; you have to change their attitude towards the teachers as well.” Jackson also recognizes that many kids play football in the youth leagues, essentially bypassing academic requirements for playing football in the middle school or junior varsity at the high school level. “We do (have connections with the youth football leagues) with the Highlands Eagles, Cliff Howell,” said Jackson, “I have spoken to him about academics and how we need to stress that with the kids. I wish that they were playing with the JV team and not the youth league, but that is not something I can control.” Jackson also commented that Reggie Knighten does a great job with that in Avon Park and we talked about that as well. “Once we all get together and realize how important academics are, and some people do not worry about that,” said Jackson, “but they have to realize at this level it is something that we have to attack and fight everyday. So hopefully we can keep that emphasis on academics in the youth programs.” With the spring football game against Sebring coming up on May 24, Jackson is optimistic about his team for that game and the upcoming football season. “I am looking to see if they are willing to put forth the effort,” he said. “Assignment wise we have three weeks to put in what we want to do and I realize that it is not going to be crisp and perfect, you don’t want to peak out at this time of year anyway.” Not only is Jackson looking for effort, he wants his kids to realize when they made a mistake and have the ability to correct that mistake. There is no doubt in Jackson’s mind that the Avon Park Red Devils will be more competitive this year. He has coached some of the kids on the team before and knows not only what kind of kids he has, but knows they will put forth the effort required. How thinks they should win districts and has told his team that. A firm believer in setting high but obtainable goals, he stated that if you do not set a goal, you might as well not be out there. “That is just how I look at it,” said Jackson. “We’ve got some talent here, we just have to mold it and shape it to do what we want done. Hopefully by the beginning of November we will have gotten there.” As for the reaction or reception he has gotten since being named to the head coach position, Jackson stated that community support has been overwhelming. “The people of this community love this school,” said Jackson. “They love these kids and want to see them succeed and I appreciate what all the people have been doing to help out. Donating money here and there and making sacrifices to help these kids out, it won’t go unnoticed, I promise you that.”