In less than three weeks, a new high school football program will take the field in Wesley Chapel.
Like other Florida high schools, the Cypress Creek Coyotes are set to begin spring football practices on April 24.
But, the circumstances for this team are unique — particularly for new head coach Mike Johnson and prospective athletes.
The program faces logistical hurdles because Cypress Creek Middle High, which will pull students from both Wesley Chapel and Wiregrass high schools, is still under construction, off Old Pasco Road.
Current freshman and sophomores zoned for the school will be permitted to participate in spring football drills. But, those practices will be at Weightman Middle School, while Cypress Creek’s athletic fields remain under construction.
The weight room at the new school —measuring 2,273 square feet — likewise isn’t complete. Football equipment and protective gear hasn’t arrived, either.
Also, Johnson is the only paid high school football coach on staff. The six assistant positions have not yet been filled.
Cypress Creek Middle High, located 8701 Old Pasco Road, will have nearly 1,500 students in grades six through 11 next year. That means no seniors in its inaugural football season.
Cypress Creek’s new football coach sees an “exciting opportunity” for the upstart program, he said.
“I think it’s an absolutely great opportunity — walking into something where you get to put your mark on it,” Johnson said. “These kids have every opportunity to do what they want with it; they can make it what they want.”
Johnson, currently a physical education teacher at Taylor Elementary, will serve as a graduate enhancement teacher at Cypress Creek during the 2017-2018 school year.
An Illinois native, Johnson moved to Florida in 2010. He most recently coached at Stuart Middle School, where the team went undefeated in his lone season. He previously had a two-year stint as an offensive line coach at Wesley Chapel High school, under former head coach Ben Alford; Alford stepped down in 2012 after going 11-19 in three seasons.
During a meet-and-greet at Wesley Chapel High School on March 28, Johnson provided program updates, while fielding football-related questions from parents and players.
Johnson’s message was optimistic: “The sky’s the limit,” he said.
Throughout the meeting, Johnson outlined pillars for the new team, along with his expectations for football families.
Academics, he said, will be a major emphasis.
So, too, is winning games and helping players reach “the next level.”
“We want to set high standards,” said Johnson, a former defensive back at Division III Eureka College in Illinois. “I’ve got to have students-athletes that want to work hard every day, and want to come to practice every day.”
Moreover, he said the program’s foundation will conform to the “5C’s”— Commitment, Consistency, Courage, Communication and Compassion.
“We will definitely develop an atmosphere, that everyone will be proud of,” he said.
Regarding offensive and defensive schemes, Johnson was relatively vague, but noted he’ll gear the Coyotes playbook towards the strengths of his eventual roster and coaching staff.
“We’ll figure that out when (the players) get out there. You’ve got to be versatile to what you have,” he said.
That includes taking suggestions from players, through his “open-door” policy.
“I want the kids to be able to come in and talk to me. I don’t want it to be where a player is afraid to come talk to me,” Johnson explained.
He added: “I want the kids to have some say in their program, how they want to start it, and how they want to build it, so they’ll be proud of it when they graduate.”
One thing he won’t do, however, is “play favorites.”
“The whole playing favorites thing is out the window. I’m going to put the best 11 on the field, and we’re going to play football.”
Cypress Creek varsity football will be designated for Class 4A for at least its first two years, according to Tim Light, the school’s assistant principal.
The team’s 2017 schedule was put together by Matt Wicks, the county’s athletic director, Light said.
A “patchwork” slate, it features teams that struggled in 2016 (Gulf and Pasco high schools), along with some perennial powerhouses (Tampa Catholic and Sunlake).
In September, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) passed a new system that bases football postseason berths on a points system in Class A-4A. The new format, beginning this season, is designed to reward teams for winning records and strength of schedule.
In the FHSAA’s biggest four classes (5A-8A), the district champion still automatically qualifies for regionals, with the remaining 16 spots decided by points.
While Cypress Creek Middle High won’t have seniors on its inaugural football team, Johnson said the school will “mold these (younger) kids into the leaders that we want them to be.
“It’s just a really good opportunity to get down to very basic stuff and get them to learn that, and not skip over anything,” he said.
Another parent meeting is expected prior to the start of spring practice.
For more information, visit CCMHS.pasco.k12.fl.us.
Other coaches hired at Cypress Creek:
Anthony Mitchell: Boys Varsity Basketball and Boys Golf
Joseph Neale: Varsity Baseball
Stacy Hill: Girls Varsity Basketball
Eliza Pasardi: Girls Cross Country
John Hoffman: Boys Cross Country and Boys Varsity Track
Cypress Creek Middle High School
Mascot: The Coyotes
School colors: Green and yellow
High School Varsity Football Schedule – Cypress Creek is 4A-Region 3
Preseason Classic — at Fivay (5A) 7 p.m.
Week 1 — Gulf (5A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 2 — Ridgewood (5A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 3 — at Hudson (5A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 4 — at Pasco (6A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 5 — Land O’ Lakes (6A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 6 — Bye
Week 7 — at Sunlake (6A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 8 — Tampa Catholic (3A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 9 — at Springstead (6A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 10 — Mulberry (4A) 7:30 p.m.
Week 11 — at Anclote (5A) 7:30 p.m.
Published April 5, 2017