By Ken Jackson
Two of the three new head coaches for Osceola County football teams are signed, sealed and delivered.
Anthony Davis, who previously coached at Marathon and Key West down in the Keys, will be Tohopekaliga High’s first head coach when the Tigers take the field in August.
More familiar to locals, Brandon Pennington, who was a coordinator at St. Cloud in 2014-15 before coaching near his West Virginia roots, will take over at Liberty after Doug Gabriel led the Chargers to a 4-6 record in his lone year there.
Poinciana Athletic Director Rob Weilert, who was hired by the school less than a month ago, is still sifting through resumes and conducting interviews for the Eagles’ head coaching job and should soon have a replacement for Ken Knapczyk, who stepped down after three seasons and a 3-27 record.
Davis, 46, played three seasons as a defensive back for Western Michigan University (1988-92) and played briefly in the Canadian Football League. He returned to football and coaching after a 10-year career in corrections and coached football and basketball at Key West High. He returned to his alma mater of Marathon High in the Middle Keys as the head football and boys track coach. The Dolphins were 7-2 last season, despite losing games and practice time to Hurricane Irma, which plowed through the Keys just west of Marathon, and earned a conference title.
He will move north to Osceola County in April, and work with zoned incoming freshman during the spring.
“I know the area, I have family in Orlando and my dad is in Titusville,” Davis said of his connection to the area. “I really wanted more for me and my players, and I’m excited for the opportunity to build a strong foundation for the Tohopekaliga High School football program and help our student-athletes become productive citizens.
“(Toho High Athletic Director) Kevin Mays and I share a philosophy of providing athletes with positive leadership. There were a lot of people just like that who got me to where I am. There’s a new excitement about starting a program. I’ve got goosebumps and I can’t wait to get started.”
Davis said the Tigers will play as an independent in 2018 and are piecing together a schedule before entering a district in 2019. He said he’s worked in all sorts of sets — single back, speed option and the spread on offense, 4-3 and 3-4 Cover-2 defenses — and will fine tune a scheme to the Toho talent.
“If we have athletes willing to work, we’ll be fine. I come from a group of kids who fought through the adversity of Irma, thinking they might not have a season after the storm. We practiced and played in a park for a while. I understand it will take time.”
Pennington, 45, is a West Virginia native, like Osceola High Coach Doug Nichols, who was Liberty’s first coach from 2007-09. Pennington will be a first-year head coach, but was a defensive (2014) and offensive coordinator (2015) for St. Cloud under Coach Bryan Smart. That 2015 Bulldogs offensive featured a 1,000-yard rusher (Brian Johnson, 1,169 yards, 10 touchdowns) and passer (Hunter Weismore, 1,795 yards, 24 TDs) and three receivers who all caught for more than 350 yards.
He went back home last year and was the defensive coordinator at South Hagerstown (Md.) High.
“I’m very excited, I’ve met with the kids and am anxious to get them lifting and in 7-on-7,” he said. “If anything, Liberty’s got plenty of athleticism.”
Pennington is blessed to have one more season with quarterback Jaelen Ray, who threw for 2,200 yards and 14 touchdowns and ran for 420 more, under center.
“Jaelen’s proved to have a big-game arm, he can be a real dual threat,” the coach said. “We’ve got some good-looking guys at wide receiver, so we have some guys to look at. I can do whatever needs to be done. I want the best fits on the field.”
Pennington noted a mentor in West Virginia, Toby Peer, who he played for and coached against.
“He taught me football, as well as making our young men better husbands and fathers,” he said.
Smart said Pennington knows his football.
“He’s a great guy and it’s been a long time coming for him to run a program,” Smart said. “We look forward to competing with him year in and year out. I’m super proud of him and he will do great things over there.”