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Starting a fledging football program takes patience, Weeki Wachee coach Mark Lee learns

WEEKI WACHEE

Patience is a virtue, but it's much easier in theory than in practice.

Weeki Wachee High School coach Mark Lee is learning this firsthand with his new football team.

Lee's road to leading the Hornets has been an interesting one, to say the least.

A coach's son, he grew up playing quarterback before following in his father's footsteps. He got his big break when he was able to get a graduate assistant's job with West Virginia University (1999-2000).

From there, Lee, 35, coached at a plethora of small colleges and high schools. It was a path that eventually led him to Hernando County and a position with Springstead High School as an offensive coordinator under Bill Vonada in 2008.

That season, Lee's influence on the Eagles was obvious. The pass, which had never been a focal point in Springstead's game, became a staple for quarterback James Mahla as he threw for 1,391 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Lee then became a prominent name in head coaching searches, and when the job at Nature Coast Technical High School came open, Lee was hired there. Nature Coast was a perennial contender for the postseason, though, and the gig came with high expectations.

Even though Lee led the Sharks back to the playoffs with a 7-4 record, boosters and parents were impatient. He was fired soon after the season ended.

At this point Lee was given an opportunity that couldn't have been more different from the job he was departing — becoming the first athletic director and football coach at Weeki Wachee High, the county's fifth public high school, which opened in August.

While one might describe the roster he was coaching at Nature Coast as filled with egos and stars, his players at Weeki Wachee would have little or no football experience.

"It's tough to watch sometimes," Lee acknowledged last week. "When you grow up with your dad as a coach, you eat, sleep and drink football. These kids aren't used to that."

The challenge is to build a program from the ground up, and it's a job that Lee has welcomed with open arms.

With mostly freshmen and only a handful of sophomores, the Hornets are playing a full junior varsity schedule this year. More than halfway through the season, the improvement is noticeable, but it's looking likely that the program will remain in the junior varsity ranks again in 2011.

"We have to wait and see, but we'll probably play JV again next year," Lee said. "We have mostly ninth-graders on this team, and we still have a long way to go."

Offensively, it is obvious that Lee has been able to influence the team. In the Week 5 game at home against Central High School, the Hornets moved the ball well behind the passing of quarterback David Tinch, but turnovers hurt the team.

In the first half, Tinch fumbled on the second play of the game, and Central returned it 20 yards to put the Bears up 7-0. When the Hornets got the ball back after the kickoff, Tinch fumbled the ball again on first down, which led to another score for Central.

Eventually, the Hornets fell 45-0 in front of the home crowd. Weeki Wachee is 2-3 on the season. The biggest problem, Lee says, is consistency on both sides of the ball.

Regardless of the outcome of the games, Weeki Wachee principal Dennis McGeehan credits Lee for the amount of work he's had to do, not only to get the football team in motion, but also to delegate work among the other coaches.

"I've definitely seen a lot of growth, and the youngsters have come together as a team," McGeehan said. "Coach Lee has put a lot of time in. He put time in this (past) spring."

Whether the Hornets become a consistent winner this year, next year or five years from now, Lee's mark will always be on the program.

If you look at the Weeki Wachee logo, there is something familiar about it. The connecting W's look similar to the WV of the West Virginia logo. It's the university in the town where Lee grew up and once worked.

From his humble beginnings in Morgantown, W.Va., to Weeki Wachee, Lee is still working hard on the gridiron — staying patient.

Weeki Wachee High Green Hornets

Homefield: Hornets Nest

Stadium

Record: 2-3

Coach: Mark Lee (first season)

Roster:

No.Player
2Justin Fowler
8David Finch
10Andrew Jensen
11Russell Moody
14Christian Burns
16Timothy Hunter
20Kyle Keelan
23Brandon Dunn
25Jacob Cimino
26John King
28Anthony DiNardo
34Andrew Vreeland
40Dante Menech
52James Reynolds
53Nick Rozenburgh
56James Purdy
57Royce Reece
60Chandler Ballantine
63Garrett Greatrex
66Kyle O'Connor
70Marcus Applefield
71Ricky Bolduc
73Thomas McGilroy
75Tyler Pierson
77Josh Brooks
82Hiram Matos
83Devyn Deitweler
84Justin Story
88Kasey Hancock
90William Peterman
92Jake Nence
97Zach Fender
98Gabe Bolech

Starting a fledging football program takes patience, Weeki Wachee coach Mark Lee learns 10/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 8:09pm]
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