Sunlake weightlifting coach Matt Smith has developed the Seahawks into one of the premier boys lifting programs in Tampa Bay.
Smith’s squad, which has won four straight Sunshine Athletic Conference titles, finished in fifth-place in Class 2A state weightlifting competition last season.
This year, Sunlake has seniors Jack Holloway, Eddie Burgos and Raymond Busbee competing in states April 19 and 20 at the Kissimmee Civic Center.
Smith’s success was recognized earlier this season when he was named National Federation of State High School Associations 2012 Florida Coach of the Year.
“Coach Smith is a blessing,” said Seahawks athletic director Russ Schenk. “He’s really turned some kids around. He has great rapport, and does a great job for the kids and Sunlake High School.”
Smith was Hernando’s football coach for three years and spent 11 seasons as the school’s wrestling coach before joining the staff at Sunlake when the school opened in 2007.
“It’s a great honor anytime you receive an award like that,” Smith said about the NFSHA recognition. “It shows the amount of work the kids put in. … A lot of things play a factor (in the program’s success). The entire football staff works out, and that sets an example.”
Weightlifting has been a part of Smith’s life going back to his days as a student at Springstead, where he lifted and played guard on the football team.
“I’ve been involved with weights for 25 years,” Smith said. “I think weightlifting teaches a lot of self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Self-confidence served Smith well after he was seriously injured in an accident in high school.
“I had a bad motorcycle accident my junior year right after football season,” Smith said. “I spent 56 days in the hospital with a broken arm and leg.”
Smith came back from the injury and resumed lifting and playing football his senior year. He went on to Culver Stockton College in Canton, Mo. where he was a nose guard.
The Sunlake lifting program is filled with football players, but there is growing interest among all students.
“We had 51 lifters this year. That’s the most I’ve ever had, and all of them got at least one meet. I was happy to build a program when I came here. Other schools have a hard time getting a full lineup,” said Smith, who is also the defensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the Seahawks football team.
“There are a few things I try to do,” Smith added. “I have a good approach with my workout plan, and I jump in there and demonstrate to them. We pretty much do a full-body workout. Competing against the coaches is a big motivation. It’s a fun environment.”
Holloway, who competes in the 129-pound class, credits Smith for getting him involved with lifting as a freshman.
“I had a weightlifting class in P.E., and I liked it; it drew me in,” Holloway said. “Coach Smith pretty much will do anything for us. He definitely works us, but he’s a really good guy.”
Burgos was a running back and Busbee a linebacker on the football team. Burgos lifts in the 183-pound and Busbee in the 238-pound class.
“I got thrown into lifting competition last year, and I liked it,” Burgos said. “People think lifting is an individual sport, but everybody has to push each other to the max. … Coach Smith works on technique and pushes us from the bench. He’s a real good coach that doesn’t yell. He tells us calmly what to work on.”
Sunlake graduates 14 lifters, but Smith said his squad will be competitive as ever next season as his 22 freshmen develop.
“We graduated 15 kids off of last year’s team,” Smith said. “I try to get so many freshmen to come out. I have many of my lighter kids in class, and they have potential to be strong. … Jack weighed 106 pounds when he was a freshman, and I encouraged him to come out. He moved up in weight, and now has a good shot to be on the podium at the state finals this year.”
Smith credits football with creating much of the growth in weightlifting.
“I believe we got started because every football coach wants to prevent injuries and make their team stronger,” Smith said. “It’s a big part of the way we coach at Sunlake. I encourage the kids and try to keep them motivated. I’m proud of them and want them to improve as athletes and students.”