How Hernando County junior varsity football coaches help student-athletes make the transition from middle school to high school.
Article and Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
Hernando County, FL ---Middle school football coaches are building fundamentals for their players while junior varsity (JV) coaches are preparing their players for the higher expectations of varsity football.
Throughout the football season, I covered a few games. Interviewing coaches both in middle school and junior varsity. Coaches all said that their goals are to mentally prepare these student athletes as well as build the right character.
The coaches are Hernando High’s Robert Kazmier, Nature Coast Tech’s Chase Liggett, Springstead’s Frank Hynes, Central’s Paul Kern and Weeki Wachee’s Jimmy Allen.
For two of these coaches, this is their first year coaching for their junior varsity football program; however, all are a part of the varsity coaching staff in one position or another.
Central’s third year wrestling coach and second-year running back coach for the varsity football team, Paul Kern became the coach for junior varsity just days before their first game of the season. It was a challenge at first, however, it forced him to rely heavily on his coaching instincts.
“I am going to try to set them (the players) up as best as I can so they can succeed,” Kern said. “How the game goes, I don’t know, but I am going to put them in the best position they will be successful at.”
For Weeki Wachee High, the whole coaching staff started their football season off fresh. This new beginning was a great opportunity for the junior varsity coach to establish a foundation with newly recruited freshman players.
“This is our first year as a coaching staff at Weeki Wachee, both JV, and varsity,” said Allen, Hornets’ junior varsity football coach. “What we are trying to do is put a foundation of good habits in place so they can continue to develop those habitats as they move up.”
Nature Coast Tech’s Chase Liggett has been around the Sharks’ field for many years. This year was his first season as the junior varsity coach, where he excelled with his team. The junior varsity sharks walked away with an undefeated season.
“It’s interesting from program to program how this is different when you are dealing with JV kids and how you are teaching them the varsity system,” Liggett said. “What I did with our system, I installed minor tweaks to things that I thought I could use on the JV.”
For Hernando’s Robert Kazmier and Frank Haynes, being on the sidelines is natural. They have been around the transition of incoming first-year students for years. They fully understand how player trust is built and when and where to implement stricter rules.
For the past ten years, Frank Haynes has held the junior varsity coaching position at F.W. Springstead High School.
“It goes way beyond the game. I believe it’s more of developing men of character,” Haynes said.
Haynes, who is also an elementary physical education teacher and Springstead’s varsity defensive line coach, has the opportunity to see that student-athletes progress.
“I really feel that football is a great game to build relationships. It’s a game built by trust,” Haynes said. “What we teach them is so much further than just a game. The tenacity of it, the grind of it, the no-quit aspect of it, all those things we correlate into their personal lives when football is over.”
‘The grind of it,’ is precisely that. Building these student-athletes’ individual physical strength as well as mental strength is imperative during this transition. The coaches are preparing these freshmen players to understand the intensity of high school football.
“Toughen them up, that is the first thing you have to do, you have to get them used to getting yelled at,” Kazmier said. “Kids crumble these days when things get hard, so the mental toughness is key. Once they get past that, then you can coach them.”
Freshmen players must learn through a whole new coaching system as well as more strict coaching techniques.
“Sometimes you have to break kids of habits,” Liggett said. “Things that they do on the field that they may just do on their own or may have been coached from the past don’t translate to this level of football. Everything is much more technical, and you have to be technically sound.”
“The transition I would have to make is learning how to coach these kids. In the past 15-20 years, these kids have changed dramatically. What it boils down to getting these kids at the JV level being able to take constructive criticism. If they can take constructive criticism, I feel they are coachable, and they will play for you. You can see that right away who can learn to take criticism,” Kern said.
“We place emphasis on always conducting yourself and handling yourself in a way that represents our program. We try to get that across as our number one goal,” Allen said. “We are trying to build better young men first and better football players second. That’s our philosophy of the entire staff from JV level up through the varsity level.”
The football season may be over for some as only selected JV players have been recruited to fill the varsity roster during the playoffs. The construction of building a JV team is always in the works.
“Our biggest asset is continuity when we have the opportunity. You want to keep those kids together as freshmen on JV and help them be successful as much as possible. You want those kids to stay together, learn together, and grow together. At one point in time, that is going to be your senior class. You want them to fight the battles together, and as freshmen, if they develop that and they keep that mentality and those values that you established in that group, that’s a recipe for success,” said Kazmier.