WESLEY CHAPEL — Hudson's new football coach still runs around with a Mitchell key rope hanging from his shorts.
Everywhere Justin Fenton goes, he seems to take part of his past along. Maybe it's because the tangible history the former Mustangs defensive coordinator has is something he has come to cherish.
Many Cobras players are happy with their new coach because he truly seems to care about his new team. It's not so much that former coach Mark Nash (now at Nature Coast) didn't do a good job. Nash fell short, in the minds of many Hudson players, when he seemed unapologetic in expressing interest in several coaching openings around the North Suncoast.
In other words, the Cobras felt rejected.
"(Nash) didn't want to tell us he was leaving," quarterback Austin Smith said. "… If he wants to leave and disrespect us, then that's what he's going to do. … We have a new coaching staff, and it's fun. … They push with longer practices, and I like it."
Fenton's loyalty, in many ways, probably makes him a good fit. The 29-year-old was raised by a single mother after his parents divorced. He still talks to his father, who lives in South Florida, and calls him a "good guy." But it's clear his father figure growing up was Scott Schmitz, a former coach at Mitchell and River Ridge. They talk frequently, and much of Fenton's football philosophy comes from lessons learned when Schmitz coached Fenton at River Ridge.
"He was the first person I ever heard talk about pride and accountability," Fenton said. "When I was a young kid I got into a lot of trouble. Scott was the first guy to tell me, 'Don't do that. You're better than that.' I ran with it."
Fenton seems to have won over most of the players with tough love.
"Coach Fenton's something else," Smith said. "He doesn't like people that slack, and I'm not one of them. … Coach Nash didn't push us hard. I like Coach Nash, but he didn't play me to the best of my ability. … (Fenton) gave me a chance, and I'm going to show him what I can do."
Andy Schmitz, also a former assistant coach at Mitchell under his father, Scott, is Fenton's offensive coordinator. The pair have known each other for the better part of two decades.
"I knew Andy in high school," Fenton said. "I used to hit him a lot. He was a quarterback. He tells stories about me hitting him all the time."
Fenton hopes working with former Mustangs such as Andy Schmitz and others such as Nash holdover Keith Newton will help to replicate the success Mitchell had in 2009. That team finished 8-2, falling just short of the playoffs after district losses to Pasco and Land O'Lakes.
What Fenton sees in the Cobras — roughly 20 players out for spring practice, 50-plus for summer — is a tight-knit core.
One huge addition has been Land O'Lakes transfer Gary Myrick. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder played strictly defense in the past. Now at Pasco County's unofficial seven-on-seven summer league, Myrick can be seen running routes at tight end and making big plays.
"If you have yourself a Division I player and you're not playing him everywhere, you're a moron," Fenton said. "He plays about three different positions on defense. … He's a great addition. We're getting to know each other. He's a competitor and he's a leader."
As Fenton moves forward with the Cobras, his experience as a player and assistant coach will come into play.
"I'm trying to build on the philosophies I believe in," Fenton said. "We need accountability. If the other guy doesn't do his job you still do what you do and be accountable for that.
"This is a good group of kids. They've played together for years. They've known each other for a long time. That's what was special about what we had at Mitchell."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.