AVON PARK - To say that last year's football season was a disappointment for Avon Park would be an understatement to many of the fans, players and parents of Red Devil football.
The school decided to oust Coach Lee Brown after one season and bring in Wade Jackson to turn the program around.
From 2009 - 2011, Avon Park went 10-21 while being shut out only five times. Last year they went 2-9 and were unable to put points on the board in seven of those games.
"I think the problem was that they were trying to do things that these kids can't do," said Coach Wade Jackson. "What I have looked at is what's best for the kids that we have and running an offense and defense that is best for their ability. That is what we really tried to focus on."
Though the final scores show that Avon Park was blown out in most games, it is not a true indicator of how the Red Devils played, at least defensively, as many of those games were close at the half.
Jackson noted that there were too many times last year when the offense went three-and-out, putting pressure on the defense that eventually wore out in the second half.
"We can't have that," the Red Devil coach said. "We have to have a ball control type of offense. We need to stay on the field and keep our defense off and try to shorten games."
He noted that they can't survive throwing the ball all over the field and going three-and-out.
"I just don't think the kids were put in a good position to succeed and that is what we are going to try to do this year," Jackson said. "I hate to keep talking about last year, but we did not have our best eleven on the field all the time. This year we are going to have our best eleven on offense and defense. It doesn't matter how big you are, if you are not blocking or tackling, you're not going to beat anybody, that is what we are focusing on."
Jackson knows that a lot of people are going to look back at last year. That they will see the seven shutouts and have their doubts.
"I was here at every game," said Jackson. "I know what happened. I know the kind of kids that were out there and I know they were not put in a position to win, meaning they could have done a lot better."
This year they have worked on those aspects of the game like special teams and protecting the football, putting kids in the right spot and playing both ways if they have to.
"That is one thing we did not do last year," Jackson said. "We are a small school, we cannot do that, we will get destroyed every game if we try to do that."
One major difference this year is that Class 4A-District 6 shrunk from six teams down to four with Fort Myers Dunbar and Sarasota Booker no longer in the district. That leaves LaBelle, Clewiston and Lake Placid as Avon Park's district opponents.
The Red Devils lost to all three last year, being shut out by LaBelle and Clewiston by scores of 14-0 and 35-0 respectively, before losing to county rival Lake Placid by a score of 33-6.
Despite that, Jackson is upbeat and confident about his team and was glad that Dunbar and Booker are no longer in the district.
"Not saying that these other teams are weak opponents," said Jackson, "but they are teams that I feel we can go out and compete with. They are not a team that we won't have a chance from the get go, with that being said I feel confident on what we can do this year. I feel we can go out and be competitive and win some games. We have some good young men that can play football on this team, they just have to be put in the position to succeed and allow then to do that. I think that I, along with my coaching staff, have done that."
Despite seasons past, Jackson firmly believes that you cannot measure the season in wins and losses and knows that the talent and drive of his players does not reflect the 2-9 season from last year.
His expectations are high, as for any head coach, and will approach each game expecting to win.
"We are not going to fear anybody and respect them all," said Jackson.
In a honest evaluation, he feels that they can compete for the district championship.
"That is just the way my mentality is," Jackson said. "It isn't to be cocky or overconfident, but if you don't set your goals high, why be out here."