By Ken Jackson
Next year’s annual “Battle of the Boulevard” rivalry football game will feature new head coaches next season as Poinciana and Liberty High administrators will be seeking to fill football head coaching vacancies in the short term.
Osceola County Athletic Director Ryan Adams confirmed this week that Poinciana Coach Ken Knapczyk resigned his position on Monday, and Liberty’s Doug Gabriel confirmed himself that school administrators advised him the Monday after the season finale, a 67-0 win over Lake Region, that they “wanted to go in a different direction.”
Gabriel, who teaches the PLATO credit recovery class, said he will remain at the school through the end of the year, especially through the two college signing periods: a new early one from Dec. 20-22, and the traditional National Signing Day on Feb. 7.
“They asked me to continue the coach’s duties, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said. “This came out of the blue. I was shocked, and so was the staff. But I came here with one of the goals to get as many kids into college as possible, and I’m going to finish that job.”
Gabriel listed seven players that have received FBS, FCS and Division II college offers and may sign.
The Chargers were 4-6 this year on the field, which became 5-5 when South Lake had to forfeit an Aug. 25 win due to an ineligible player. Liberty junior quarterback Jaelen Ray (2,208 yards) and senior receiver Mario Johnson (1,092, the county’s first 1,000-yard receiver since 2008) set school records for passing and receiving yards. Junior tailback King Perry also tallied 777 rushing yards.
“The future here is bright,” said Gabriel, who was a coordinator at Olympia and an assistant and interim head coach at East River in Orange County prior to coming to Liberty.
Knapczyk leaves after a 2-8 season in 2017, the Eagles’ first multi-win season since they went 4-6 in 2013, and a 3-17 record in three PHS season.
Poinciana Athletic Director Matt Murphy said the school will be accepting applications from within and outside the program through the next month.
“The process is wide open,” he said. “Ken did an outstanding job building the football program the last three years. We wish him all the luck.”
Knapczyk, who could not be reached for comment for this story, came to Poinciana after coaching stints at East Ridge and Gateway Charter High in Fort Myers. He also was an assistant at the college level, and played receiver in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals in 1987-88.
Liberty’s next coach will look to take the Chargers to the playoffs for the first time; the school opened in 2007. Poinciana’s next coach will seek the Eagles’ first postseason berth and winning season since 2000.