You will have to pardon the mess at the IMG Academy, as the football program is still under construction.
Of course I kid, well sort of. The Ascenders cruised through their inaugural season, finishing with an impressive 9-2 record.
“What we were able to accomplish was quite remarkable,” said Chris Weinke, IMG Academy’s coach and Football Director. “We had kids playing from all over the world and they all came in on August 5th. Finishing 9-2 was a testament to the players and coaches we have here. They all trusted the process and we created a healthy environment.”
IMG literally started from ground zero and it seems like it started yesterday. They first attracted the former Florida State star, NFLer and Heisman Trophy winner in Weinke. He received nearly 300 coaching resumes to pick a staff from. Weinke then assembled his first team. 52 players came from seven different countries and 16 states. Their stadium was completed in August and their first season is history.
“They literally worked on that stadium 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Weinke said. “They didn’t begin until March. They were pouring concrete at 2 a.m. and laying sod the day of our first game. It was crazy to think how quickly they built it.”
IMG is currently building a huge field house that sits behind one of the end zones. This will be like no other. Not only will it house the football offices for Weinke and his staff but it will also have five locker rooms.
“This is now the focus,” Weinke said. “This was actually started before the stadium. In addition to our team we will house NFL and CFL teams that want to run mini-camps or OTAs. We want to deliver a first class experience.”
‘First class experience’ is what Weinke is trying to build within every aspect of his program, especially from a personnel standpoint. It’s not like there’s a local middle school or two that will feed great players into their boarding school program. Those kids go to Manatee, Palmetto or Southeast. In fact, IMG is restricted from recruiting in-state talent and there were only five Floridians on the 2013 roster.
“We are losing 28 seniors,” Weinke said. “But we will get an influx of kids in January and then in August. We plan on fielding a JV team next year and ideally have a roster of 60-70. There are so many people out there that are just real curious about what we are doing. And now we can show them something. We can answer their inquiries much better than before.
“We went 9-2. We have a stadium. We have a number of college football bound players. We have differentiators. We have created exposure.”
Weinke and IMG were able to attract quite a few top notch college football prospects. Quarterback Michael O’Connor will finish as the top signal caller in this class from the state of Florida. He’s originally from Canada and played his junior season in the state of Tennessee. O’Connor has committed to play at Penn State.
Matthew Boateng and Jamorien Hill are two cornerbacks that will likely end up with BCS teams. Boateng is from Toronto while Hill is from Alabama. Running back Mikey Daniels is from South Dakota and offensive tackle Matthew Murphy is from England. Juniors linebackers Nick Thomas and John Tauber are two BCS ‘backers. Thomas is from Kansas while Tauber is from Florida.
Of course, their huge prospect in this class of 2014 is running back Bo Scarbrough. He came in August from Tuscaloosa, Ala. and he has been a long time commitment to the Crimson Tide, although he has visited some other schools.
Weinke believes his experience and relationships can really help kids like Scarbrough, O’Connor and the others through the recruiting process.
“I want to be their GPS system,” Weinke said. “I want to give them what I know and let them make the decision. We will act as their support system. We can find out a lot about teams and do the research for these kids. That also helps the families and their parents because they are not here.”
Last spring 88 college programs came to IMG. Last week 13 came by and Weinke is expecting 25 this week.
One of their star recruits coaches are flocking to Bradenton to see is junior offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis. He’s 6-6,300-pounds and a local player from Tampa Bay Tech. When it’s all said and done he will be one of the most coveted linemen period in the class of 2015.
When I asked coach if he would be the top guy at IMG next year Weinke looked like the cat that ate the canary.
This is only a sign of things to come. With his pedigree, experience and reputation he and his staff (many with NFL experience) should be able to attract many elite football players in the short and long term. And IMG speaks for itself and they are almost complete with their world class facilities. Weinke obviously can’t speak about players that have yet to arrive on campus. That will happen mainly in two parts beginning next month. In the meantime, they continue to go about their business and build for the future.
“We just have to keep educating people on who we are,” Weinke said. “That’s kind of our message. People need to understand the big picture here. We are not all about football. This place isn’t for everybody.”
One of the big questions moving forward for this program is their classification. What are they? Currently, IMG is not in any and remain an Independent. They can’t play for a state championship.
“It’s unknown to us,” Weinke said. “And we have no answers today. We have had discussions with the Florida High School Athletic Association and we will continue to have discussions with them. We are a new program with kids here from around the country and around the world. I think they want to wrap their arms around who we are.”
In the meantime, Weinke put together a first class schedule with eight 2012 playoff teams. They played games against Jacksonville Trinity Christian and Clearwater Central Catholic. Those two met last Saturday for the 3A state title. They also played Ocala Trinity Catholic, Naples, Cardinal Newman, and Miami Pace.
“We have a two year schedule with all of these teams expect Cardinal Newman,” Weinke said. “We do have an open date and are looking into scheduling an out of state team. I think this is important to the kids, to take them to the next level and expose them out of state somewhere.”
Of course this is all new to Weinke. While he has done so much in the game of football, he’s actually never been a coach before this season.
“I have never been a head coach before,” Weinke said. “I have never put together a practice schedule or a game plan together. I have never called plays before. It’s wasn’t like I could tip my toe in. I had to dive in. To be honest, I have loved every minute of it. I have learned a whole lot about myself. I was hoping to go undefeated, shut her down and ride off into history.”
Weinke and IMG will make their own history. They are building a program and building one very quickly. Yet, there’s so much more to be done. It’s like the movie Field of Dreams. They are building it and they [players] are going to come.
It's all just a matter of time.
Jamie has been covering college football recruiting since 1992 and is entering his ninth year with Scout.com and FOXSports.com. He’s currently a National Recruiting Analyst and Manager for the state of Florida. Jamie is also covering the NFL Draft for the network.