One of the challenges that will face Nick Carroll as the new head coach at Zephyrhills High will be to lead a program that’s been in the midst of turmoil.
The team was successful in the win-loss column, but its former coach was replaced after a report surfaced about an on-campus sex scandal implicating some members of the football team.
According to a Zephyrhills Police report, the alleged sexual assault occurred on Sept. 1, and involved one female and several members of the football team after class hours on school property.
On Oct. 20, the female dropped the case after having difficulty remembering details regarding the incident, records show.
On Dec. 18, the case was closed after the Dade City State Attorney’s Office recommended no petition be filed because “the facts and circumstances do not warrant further prosecution,” records show.
Carroll, who graduated from Zephyrhills High, replaces Reggie Roberts, who amassed a solid 39-23 record in six seasons, including an 8-3 mark in 2015.
Carroll is excited about his first-time head coaching gig, which happens to be at his alma mater.
“It’s a great feeling, because I used to walk these hallways, and I used to walk into the same locker room,” said Carroll, who was a member of the school’s 1996-97 playoff team. “I can still imagine all the great times that we had.”
Prior to his current appointment, Carroll was as an assistant coach at Sunlake High for nine years.
Working under Sunlake head coach Bill Browning, Carroll was responsible for coaching defensive backs, wide receivers and special teams.
After “paying his dues” at Sunlake, Coach Browning feels Carroll is well-suited to lead the Zephyrhills football program.
“He’s a knowledgeable coach,” Browning said. “He has a passion for the game, and he works very well with the student-athletes.”
Also working in Carroll’s favor is his understanding of the “makeup of the Zephyrhills community,” Browning added.
However, the challenge of appeasing the football-crazed community won’t be an easy task, especially since Carroll is replacing a beloved coach in Roberts.
For Carroll, there’s pressure to be successful immediately – to silence doubters.
“Zephyrhills is notorious for having good football teams; you’ve got to win games,” said Carroll, who played college football at Mayville State University in North Dakota. “I take that as a great goal for me. …We’re going to do things…in a positive way, to where we can get the kids to play the best game possible.”
Since taking over on Feb. 9, Carroll has a lot on his plate. He’s currently juggling his duties as the school’s physical education teacher and the implementation of his football program.
In between classes, Carroll has been meeting with current members of the football team, analyzing last year’s game film and filling out his coaching staff.
“I’m taking it one day at a time,” he said. “I’m working my way around, trying to make relationships with these (players). I’m waiting until I get my staff in place until I have an actual players’ meeting. …That way we can get going in the weight room.”
Carroll has already spoken extensively with the team’s top returning player in running back Antwione Sims, who rushed for 2,093 yards in 2015, setting a single-season record for his team.
The prospect of utilizing Sims’ talent intrigues Carroll as he deliberates what type of offense he wants to construct for the 2016 season.
“He’s a great running back. He’s very determined,” Carroll said about the 5-foot-11, 196-pound rising senior. “If you watch him on film, his feet are always moving. His legs are real thick, and as the game progresses, (defenders) start to fall off his legs.
“He’s a very hard runner,” he said.
The opposite side of the ball won’t lack for playmakers either, as rising junior Zander Lemay and rising senior Brett Lemay will anchor a stout defensive line.
While ZHS returns a solid crop of playmakers, Carroll must find a way to replace several key seniors from last year’s squad, including wide receiver Jackie Tucker, offensive linemen Austin Larkin and Jonah Thomas, and linebackers Artonyo Lee and Kevin Lee.
The departure of several players will force the newly minted head coach to rely on youth in his first season.
“There’s a lot of young guys that are ninth and tenth graders that are going to play integral roles in the development of this team,” he said. “We’ve got to get these kids to believe.”
The development process starts with offseason workouts, Carroll said.
“The weight room is a huge, huge part of building success,” he said. “Discipline is a huge part of that, and making sure the kids are held accountable.
“That’s very important to me.”
Published February 17, 2016