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IMG Academy football coach Chris Weinke talks about his new program with HTPreps

BRADENTON

IMG Academy football director talks about fielding a football team and becoming the head coach.
IMG Academy football director talks about fielding a football team and becoming the head coach.

Chris Weinke welcomes his latest challenge with unsurpassed credentials.

After a successful three-sport career in high school in his home state of Minnesota, Weinke was taking part in preseason football practice in Tallahassee with the Florida State Seminoles as a freshman when he had an abrupt change of heart.

Before classes started, he elected to pursue a professional career in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, which drafted him in the second round in 1990.

Weinke spent six years with the Blue Jays as a first baseman, reaching the AAA level, when he elected to follow his heart once again.

He became a 24-year-old college freshman at Florida State, where as a quarterback he led the Seminoles to an undefeated season and a national championship in 1999.

Owning a 32-3 record as a starter, Weinke became the oldest winner ever of the Heisman Trophy at the ripe old age of 28 in 2000.

Weinke played seven NFL seasons after being drafted in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers.

In spite of all Weinke has accomplished, his latest venture as the first head football coach in the history of IMG Academy could prove to be tougher than anything else he has ever taken on.

The Bradenton facility currently has about 750 student-athletes from 85 different countries honing their abilities in seven different sports.

Weinke and his team will hit the field for the first time with spring practices in 2013 before playing competitively in the fall of 2013.

Weinke, 39, sat down and discussed his new job with HTPrep's Jim Brockman.

Q: What is the biggest challenge of starting a football program from scratch?

A: "It's even more of a challenge when you think about where we are located. Some of the best high school football in the country is played in the state of Florida. There isn't only the challenge of putting a foundation together to build a program, make sure you have the right coaching staff in place. You rarely see new programs have success early on. There are a lot of challenges. There is no question that this will be a tough task. But I'm confident that we're going to be able to create an environment with the players that decide to come to be able to be competitive at some point."

Q: What will an IMG Academy football schedule look like?

A: "We'll be a high school football team. We have a high school here. We have other teams that compete at a high school level (i.e. the baseball team). We don't necessarily know today at what level we will compete because we don't know what players we are going to have. That will be a work in progress. That's another one of the challenges. We have to be strategic in terms of who we're playing. It wouldn't make sense to be a 2A team and play 7A teams. We'll be smart about our scheduling. As a coach, the most important thing to me is to put the kids in a competitive environment. I don't want to go into a game and get beat 70-0. Or on the flip side, beat somebody 70-0. As kids sign up to go to school here, we'll evaluate that. We'll find opponents."

Q: Will you be a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association?

A: "We'll be an independent team that operates within the FHSAA. We'll play those teams, as well as playing other teams in and out of the state of Florida."

Q: Will you be doing some traveling outside of the state?

A: "There's no question. I think that is one of the things that will be attractive to a young student-athlete to come here. They'll get the opportunity to go out and play somebody in another state. As we know the high school platform has grown. It was a lot different when I was coming out of high school 20 years ago. We're excited about that. Whether we travel up to Georgia or Ohio, I think it's going to be exciting for the players."

Q: Not many high school coaches can say they've won a Heisman Trophy, a national championship, or played in the NFL. How will that kind of experience affect you as a coach?

A: "First and foremost it's exciting for me. You never know what you're going to do when you're done playing, but I always knew I wanted to be back in football. I refer to my staff as teachers, not coaches. My whole philosophy is old school. I'm a stickler for details. That's the way our program will be run. There will be a high expectation level. My emphasis is success off the field. There is going to be a discipline level here that we're going to expect a lot from them both academically and socially. The less distractions off the field, the more success on the field. In terms of my experience, I'm able to share some of the success that I had as a player, and a lot of the struggles I had as a player. I don't have all the answers, but I've been there and done it. I think that's attractive to young kids, knowing that it doesn't matter where I came from. I was able to play at the highest level, not only in football but also being a professional baseball player. Compared to other high school coaches, I'm no different. I'm a teacher who gets a chance to work with kids. I took the road less traveled. I wouldn't change a thing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would play two professional sports. It prepared me for what I'm doing today."

Q: Do you miss being involved in baseball?

A: "The question was always posed to me as 'what sport do you like the best?' My answer is always hockey. I grew up in Minnesota and started skating before I could walk I think. People don't know that about me, but growing up in Minnesota I always wanted to play in the NHL."

Q: Manatee High quarterback Cord Sandberg, who also stars as a center-fielder for the Hurricanes, could be facing the same kind of decisions you faced coming out of high school. What advice would you give him?

A: "It's good to have those choices. I think it's very simple. Follow your heart. I thought I might never get another chance to play professional baseball, so that's what I did. Then when I was in AAA, I walked away because my heart told me it was time to play football."

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