Pasco High School will have a new head football coach roaming the sidelines, for the first time in more than a decade.
The school recently announced its next head coach is Jason Stokes — a coaching mainstay in the Tampa Bay area, most notably at Gaither High School.
Stokes, 43, replaces longtime Pasco coach Tom McHugh, who was relieved of his coaching duties following four consecutive losing seasons, including a 2-8 mark this past year.
Stokes most recently coached at Lake Region High School, in Polk County. The perennially struggling program went winless in his lone season there.
Stokes has achieved coaching success elsewhere, however.
In 2017, he served a season as offensive coordinator at Indian Rocks Christian High School, which went 9-3 and reached the 2A regional finals.
He’s best known for his time at Gaither, from 2011 to 2016 — steering that program to playoff appearances in each of his first three seasons. (He later resigned in the middle of the 2016 season after reports surfaced about using ineligible players, which led to three games forfeited that year.)
Before that, Stokes was the head football coach at Bloomingdale (7-5 in 2008) and Middleton (10-10 combined record in 2009-10) high schools.
In taking over for McHugh, Stokes undoubtedly has big shoes to fill.
McHugh compiled an 86-50 mark in 12 seasons, winning six district titles (2007-12) and two regional titles (2008, 2011).
He is the county’s fifth winningest coach in public schools, behind John Benedetto (195 wins at Land O’ Lakes), Tom Fisher (124 wins at Zephyrhills), John Castelamare (103 wins at River Ridge, Mitchell) and Scott Schmitz (94 wins at River Ridge, Mitchell).
McHugh also coached a trio of Pasco players who would go on to the NFL— Josh Johnson, a former San Diego Charger and Jacksonville Jaguar cornerback who now plays for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League; Janarion Grant, a wide receiver currently on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad; and, Joey Ivie, a defensive tackle currently on the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad.
Yet, the Pirates have struggled in recent years under McHugh, going a combined 10-30 the past four years. Moreover, the program suffered four straight defeats to crosstown foe Zephyrhills High School in the annual 9-Mile War rivalry game, losing those games by an average margin of nearly 40 points.
Despite the difficulties of late, the Pirates do have a young roster stocked with promising players.
That includes linebacker Gabriel Barnes, tailback Malcolm Gibbs, receiver Darrion Robinson and lineman Savion Spaights, who will all be juniors next season, as well as rising seniors in quarterback Desmin Green, defensive back Jordan Mclaughlin and offensive/defensive tackle Cody Rand, among others.
Meanwhile, Pasco isn’t the only local school to undergo a coaching change this offseason.
In early December, Sunlake High School named assistant Trey Burdick as its next head coach, to replace the now-retired Bill Browning, the only head varsity football coach in the school’s history.
Burdick, 36, has been an assistant at Sunlake since 2008, where he’s coached linebackers, tight ends, special teams, and served as the team’s recruiting coordinator; he’s also been the school’s head track coach for six years, a role he’ll continue as head football coach.
Prior to Sunlake, Burdick was an assistant for two years at Tallahassee Godby High School, working under Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Famer Shelton Crews. He also played football for Tallahassee Lincoln High School, where he was a member of the 1999 6A state championship team.
Sunlake is coming off back-to-back 4-6 marks. Before that, from 2010 to 2016, the Seahawks strung together seven consecutive winning seasons and four playoff appearances.
Published January 16, 2019