Justin Worden has been the head football coach for Nature Coast Tech High in Spring Hill for three years, but this month he becomes the new coach for Astronaut, filling the job held by Randy Hallock for 19 seasons.
Worden was a War Eagles player himself, playing receiver and graduating in 2004. His dad, Merrill Worden, started the family’s connection with the school’s athletic program and coached for three decades, having been active with the football and track and field programs. Justin’s brother, Kyle, also played at Astronaut and is now an assistant coach at Armwood.
Worden’s last two Nature Coast Tech teams completed their regular seasons unbeaten, while Astronaut began to struggle as Brevard County’s population shifted southward. Under Worden, Nature Coast has won 22 consecutive regular season games, going 12-1 in 2015 — the best record ever for a team from Hernando County — and 10-1 in the season just completed.
In his 11-year coaching career, Worden has coached at Astronaut, Merritt Island and, more recently, Oak Ridge, where he spent five years and became a defensive coordinator.
He spoke to FLORIDA TODAY last week as he prepared to make the move back home.
Q: What were the first things you had to do to get Nature Coast Tech going? What were your priorities?
Worden: I think one of the biggest things was rebuilding the staff and getting guys that I thought were kind of in line with my mindset, as far as the direction we wanted to lead the kids. And then, the second part of that was just getting the kids in the weight room and getting them bought in to being in attendance for everything and holding each other accountable.
Q: Is that similar, or do you know, if those will be the same priorities at Astronaut?
Worden: Yeah, I think building the staff is always what you’re going to do when you get there, even though there are some guys there that have been there a while that I’m sure will be holdovers. I definitely want to get some fresh views in there and get some fresh opinions. I think buying in on the weight room will be paramount for us.
Q: Will you build your opinion of returning players from watching film, or do you want to leave your mind open to form your own opinion in person?
Worden: I think you definitely watch a little film, just to get a feel, but I’m really big on putting the best on the field that you see in practice. A testament to that is a linebacker we have (at Nature Coast) that graduates this year. He finished school as the career leader in tackles, and when I got here he was a receiver. He just kind of showed out at practice and made every tackle. We said if he’s going to make every tackle like this, move him to defense.
I think it’ll be the same thing, some diamonds in the rough, because we’ll be different. They’ll fit differently for us than they have in past years.
Q: Are you talking about a different scheme or the way you run the program, or both?
Worden: Probably both. Coach Hallock has definitely had a lot of success, and you definitely keep some of that stuff intact, but, me being a different person and personality, there will be differences in how it’s run. We’re definitely going to do some different things scheme-wise, as well.
Q: Who are your coaching influences in addition to your dad?
Worden: Growing up in Brevard, obviously my dad and then, over at Palm Bay, coach (Dan) Burke, watching what he does. Then a little bit of what (Merritt Island coach Jeff) McLean does, stealing from the guys that’ve had success.
In basketball, you’ve got gym rats. I feel like I’m the football version of that. I watch a lot of film, be it offseason or not. I’ve borrowed a lot of ideas.
Q: What is your connection with coach Burke, or have you just watched him from afar?
Worden: Just from afar, defending what he does and seeing what he does to give you trouble. I kind of cut my teeth on the defensive side of the ball. Once I got my opportunity on offense, I tried to incorporate things he did that were difficult. You look at his longevity, and it speaks for itself. You don’t want to call yourself a fan of another coach, because you might have to line up across from them, but there’s definitely a lot of coaches I’ve crossed paths with that, even if it’s just from coaching against them, what they did posed difficulty when I was on the defensive side of the ball.
Q: Will you be a coordinator or just oversee everything at Astronaut?
Worden: I’ve called the offensive side for three years over at Nature Coast and we’ve had pretty good success. I’m hoping that different style over here will make us as successful over here.
Q: Will the look be that different to Astronaut fans? Will it look like somebody over here in Brevard?
Worden: It’s a little bit of everything. I’ve got some formations I used last year that worked for us that I took from Cocoa. There’s some traditional looks and non-traditional looks. It’s really a little bit of everything.
Q: What will Astronaut fans see as the character or personality of your program a few years down the road?
Worden: The two things I always look for are, the first one, is I just want a physical group on both sides of the ball. I think football, regardless of the level you’re playing, physicality is huge. That’s definitely something we want to take some pride in. Then, the second thing, I heard an interview with (retired NFL running back) Marshawn Lynch where he said he was all about the action and not the talking. I’m hoping that’s the kind of mentality I can get instilled. We’re not going to trash talk or say crazy stuff in the paper. We’re just going to line up, play by play, to where we get to the point where we’re winning all those plays.
Q: Are you caught up on the program enough to know what its potential is?
Worden: To an extent. I know there are a couple of returning offensive linemen. One good thing about Astronaut is there are always skill guys. Usually you can plug in guys defensively. I think if we can get some offensive linemen, we can see some success to build on in year one. That’s the goal, but, like I told them in the interview, year three and four is usually where you see the kick-in from everything you’re doing. Everything you do in the first two years, you’re trying to accelerate that.
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