BROOKSVILLE — Veteran football coach Bill Vonada is back on the field this spring — at former rival Hernando High School.
In 15 years at Springstead, Vonada cemented himself as a legend for the Eagles on the sideline, giving a rudderless boat direction in a difficult prep football landscape. Whether it was the monotony or the lack of challenge, the 1982 Springstead grad decided to hang up his whistle after the 2012 season.
He went to every home game for the Eagles as his former defensive coordinator, Mike Garofano, led the team to its first region final. While the moment couldn't have made Vonada prouder, it re-lit the coaching fire inside of him.
"I certainly knew that Springstead was going to have a very successful year when I left, but I believe strongly that you try to leave a program better than when you got there," Vonada said. "The time off gave me a chance to get a little rest and time to refuel."
After taking time to relax, write a book — A Season of Hope about the 2010 Springstead campaign when his father passed away — and spend some time with his family, he was ready to jump back into coaching with full dedication. When a coaching opportunity arose at Hernando, it seemed like a perfect fit for the county native.
"To be honest, I had several offers, but (former Hernando coach) John Palmer was integral in convincing me (to take the job)," said Vonada, 50. "In the long run, it seemed to be what was best for my family. I am familiar with the area and the county, and I am not a big fan of just up and moving."
Vonada had a knack for working with what many outsiders might see as below-average talent and finding a way to win while at Springstead; he had an 80-74 lifetime record. Hernando, on the other hand, has never had a shortage of talent on its rosters. But discipline and motivation have been weaknesses some years — both of which Vonada specializes in instilling in his players.
He immediately instituted mandatory study halls in an effort to change the culture. He brought on former Central coach Mike Einspahr as defensive coordinator.
Motivation comes from another new addition. High school athletes are always looking to translate their talent and potential into collegiate benefits. There has been no one better in the county at helping this process in recent years than former Nature Coast assistant Rob Kazmier. When he was jettisoned from the new Nature Coast coaching staff, Vonada snagged him as well.
"I felt from the beginning that Mike Einspahr was a quality guy, and you have to have character people on any staff," Vonada said. "I didn't know a whole lot about Kaz coming in, but he is really hard-working and does whatever he can for the kids."
Also on the new staff are longtime Hernando assistants Shawn Bingham and Harry Timmons. And Vonada brought Parrott coach Brad Peters on board.
Expectations are obviously high for a program that has reached the state playoffs three of the past four seasons. Despite going only 3-7 last year, Hernando's talent was never in doubt.
Twenty-one seniors will be lost to graduation, including captains Jesse Gaudin, Conor Foradas and Jeremiah Jackson. Jackson, the team's leading tackler, signed a full scholarship with Ball State. Also lost from that team are a number of transfers, including running back Richard Graham IV (265 yards rushing, two touchdowns), defensive end Mike Jones (41 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery), tight end Dallas McLachlan (nine catches, 120 yards) and 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive lineman Darrin Bright.
"I was told when I took this job that we would be rebuilding," Vonada said. "I stumble across something new every day that needs fixing. It's great to have talent and speed, but I'm more concerned with having kids who want to work hard and do things the right way."
Vonada becomes the third coach to take the top position at both Springstead and Hernando. Bill Humphries, whom Vonada played for as a sophomore with the Eagles, coached the Leopards in 1975 and the Eagles in 1979. Bill Browning, who currently coaches at Sunlake, was the head coach for Springstead when Vonada assisted from 1987-1995 before taking the Hernando job from 1996-2003.
As has always been the case, Vonada's focus will never be on wins and losses. He believes the record will take care of itself.
"We expect you to carry yourself in a certain way," he said. "If you create better young men, you'll create better football players."