In July of last year, Mike Williams decided to come home, in part because he was so moved by the death of Middleton High incoming freshman Hezekiah B. Walters. The former Plant High and University of Southern California star left a head coaching job in California and eventually applied to take over at Middleton.
Williams got the job and guided players still mourning the loss of one of their teammates to a 5-5 record, an impressive finish given the circumstances.
But after one season, Williams decided to leave the Tigers to take on another challenge.
On Thursday, Williams officially took over at Wharton, a program that has won a combined 14 games the past four seasons and has not made the playoffs since 2013.
Williams replaces David Mitchell, who stepped down after 15 seasons to deal with some family health issues. Mitchell went 83-74 during his tenure and led the Wildcats to six playoff appearances. Mitchell remains a teacher at the school, and will continue to coach wrestling and track and field.
The move was made largely because Williams is building a house within 5 miles of Wharton’s campus. He also wanted to have the opportunity to coach football in Class 8A, the highest classification in the state.
“This really had nothing to do with Middleton,” Williams said. “The administrators are great and teachers and parents are all tremendous. I also built a lot of relationships with the players that will still be there now that I’m gone.
“It was just the right situation for me. I’m not far away from school and it always intrigued me to take the move up and play in the highest classification there is in Florida.”
The administrators at Wharton are still working on getting Williams a staff position on campus.
There was another head coaching position in Class 8A that many assumed Williams would be interested in taking. Plant still is conducting a search to find a replacement for legendary coach Robert Weiner, who left recently to become the quarterbacks coach at Toledo. Williams, though, was never interested in returning to his alma mater.
“I didn’t even apply,” he said.
At Wharton, Williams inherits a team that loses just 17 of the 71 players listed on the MaxPreps roster to graduation.
“There is a good foundation there to be successful,” Mitchell said. “Mike has all the intangibles as a player and coach to come in and be successful. I’ll still be in the building, but I’ll be backing away. If Mike wants to talk or needs my advice, I’m there for him.”
Athlete safety bill advances
A bill that puts more safety measures in place for athletes during games, practices and conditioning drills was unanimously favored by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee to advance to the Education Committee, the last step before making it to the House floor.
House Bill 7011, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, makes amendments to a statue that requires Florida High School Athletic Association member schools to have an automated external defibrillator on campus and ensure that employees who would reasonably use the device are properly trained.
The amended item makes it mandatory for a defibrillator to be clearly marked and available for all games, practices, workouts and conditioning sessions, including those conducted in the summer when school is not in session. A school employee or volunteer trained to use the device must be present at every athletic activity.
In addition, the amended bill requires guidelines for heat prevention, including when to make cooling zones or cold-water immersion tubs available based on heat index levels and establishing hydration f protocols.
The death of Middleton’s Walters during conditioning drills this past summer played a role in state representatives wanting better protection for those who play high school sports.
In June, Walters collapsed during conditioning drills in almost 90-degree heat. The 14-year-old died from exertional hyperthermia — core body temperature usually above 104 degrees that often accompanies heat stroke and impacts the central nervous system — according to the autopsy report released by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Department in October.