TAMPA – In its search for a new head football coach, Middleton's administration focused on finding someone with strong Tampa roots who was entrenched in the area and shared the same vision of moving the Tigers football program forward.
With Hillsborough assistant coach Alonzo Ashwood, the school believes it has found just that.
Middleton athletic director Derrick Gaines said Wednesday morning that Ashwood was hired Tuesday as the school's third head coach since Middleton's reopening in 2002. He will be introduced to players Wednesday afternoon.
Ashwood, a 1987 Hillsborough High grad who went on to play collegiately at FAMU, has been the Terriers running backs coach for the past six years and also served as the team's recruiting coordinator.
“He is a pillar in the East Tampa community," Gaines said. "He lives here, he attends church here, he works here, he’s grown up here. He has a presence in the community. We wanted someone who could connect with the community. We really liked his enthusiasm. He’s all about building a program here and doing it the right way."
Ashwood was born and raised in Ybor City. He played running back at Hillsborough and was a year ahead of Middleton principal Owen Young on the Terriers football team.
"It’s unbelievable to think about all the tradition and all the heritage that Middleton has," Ashwood said. "When you're talking about Middleton, you're talking about a school that was open since 1934 and closed in 1971 and reopened in 2002. To think about all the people came people that came before me, I understand the significance of the position.
Middleton was a large part of the East Tampa's black community, located just south of its current site on 22nd Street, until it was shut down in 1971 under federal segregation order. It reopened as a magnet school eight years ago.
"I want to build a program and not just a football team," Ashwood added. "In the interviews, I told them they have had a football team since 2002, but they need to build a program here."
Ashwood said he hopes to use his connections to help build Middleton's program. He has big goals, including building a field house.
"Having those connections and knowing people in community, I plan on hitting the ground running," he said. "Heck, I'm probably going to call (Hillsborough grad and former major leaguer) Gary Sheffield. He doesn't have to right me a check, but he put me in the right direction."
Ashwood replaces Jason Stokes, who led the Tigers to a pair of 5-5 seasons. He is expected to join the faculty at Middleton as an ESE teacher after the holiday break.
Before joining Hillsborough head coach Earl Garcia’s varsity staff, Ashwood coached at the youth level in the TBYFL and on the Terriers JV staff.
-- EDUARDO A. ENCINA (email@example.com; Twitter: @EddieHometeam)