How good is IMG Academy football? With any luck, the Ascenders could win 21 varsity games next season.
A little explanation: IMG (Bradenton, Fla.), which only played nine games two seasons ago, will have two varsity football teams this fall.
One team will play a ridiculously tough 11-game national schedule that opens with a Kickoff Classic exhibition game with Florida 6A champion Carol City (Miami) and includes regular-season road games with Arizona 6A state champion Chandler, CIF Southern Section Open Division semifinalist Centennial (Corona), Utah 4A champion East (Salt Lake City) and Alabama 7A champion Hoover.
The other varsity squad will play 10 Florida 4A and 3A opponents, including 4A state semifinalist Berkeley Prep (Tampa). It will be coached on game days by IMG running backs coach Kenneth Stills.
IMG coach Kevin Wright said the split teams will allow all 120 players to get a chance to play a full varsity schedule. Neither team will compete in the state playoffs.
“This really opens up a lot of opportunity,” Wright said. “It allows us the flexibility for a kid to move up (to the national-level team). Probably the greatest element is the ability for all 120 kids to get that Friday night lights experience.”
Wright has coached larger teams. At Warren Central (Indianapolis) and Carmel (Ind.), he had more than 200 players grades 9-12 in each case, so he doesn’t feel having a second varsity team will be that complicated. He said he’ll run practices in a similar way to how Michigan ran theirs in the spring of 2016 at IMG.
“Ultimately, schematically, everybody is doing the same thing,” Wright said. “On game-prep weeks, one team will go out on the field first and do their game prep, their 7-on-7 work, while the other team is inside, doing film analysis. Then, we’ll bring the team that was inside out, and we’ll do our individual work together and then the other team will do their inside prep. It may sound complicated, but I think it works. We have a plan and from my standpoint, I’ll get to see every kid, every day. At the same time, we’re preparing for two different opponents.”
Nearly every team on IMG’s elite team schedule has been ranked in the Super 25 in the past few seasons.
“We really wanted to go play the best schedule we could play,” Wright said. “We went out and tried to find teams who were in the top 150, if however possible. We have a grinder. With that said, if you’re trying to prepare a kid at the next level, this is the (high school) equivalent to the SEC schedule, minus the easy non-conference games an SEC team might play.”
Wright said having a second team may ultimately allow IMG to establish better relationships with more Florida high schools. As it is, the school’s football program, now headed into its fifth varsity season, is having an easier time getting quality opponents.
“I think the reality is, for us, there’s probably 20-25 teams out there who are really good fits for us in any given year,” Wright said. “I think the teams that we play, the reality is different than the perception and we’ve had good relations with those teams. I think that matters, now that we’re getting to the third year (under Wright).”
IMG Blue (which will play a national-level schedule):
|Aug. 18||Kickoff Classic: Carol City (Miami)||IMG Academy||7 PM|
|Aug. 26||Chandler, Ariz.||Chandler||TBD|
|Sept. 2||Centennial (Corona, Calif.)||Cathedral Catholic, San Diego||10:30 PM|
|Sept. 8||St. Frances (Baltimore, Md.)||IMG Academy||7 PM|
|Sept. 15||St. John’s (Wash. D.C.)||IMG Academy||7 PM|
|Sept. 22||Miami (Fla.) Central||IMG Academy||7 PM|
|Sept. 30||Miami (Fla.) Northwestern||IMG Academy||7 PM|
|Oct. 6||Venice, Fla.||Venice||TBD|
|Oct. 20||East (Salt Lake City)||East||TBD|
|Nov. 3||Hoover, Ala.||Hoover||TBD|
|Nov. 11||Bishop Sullivan (Virginia Beach)||IMG Academy||7 PM|
IMG White (which will play in-state 3A and 4A opponents:
|Aug. 25||Nature Coast (Brooksville, Fla.)||IMG Academy||7 PM|
|Sept. 1||St. Stephen’s (Bradenton, Fla.)||St. Stephen’s||TBD|
|Sept. 8||West Oaks Academy (Orlando.)||West Oaks||TBD|
|Sept. 15||Gateway Charter (Ft. Myers, Fla.)||Gateway Charter||TBD|
|Sept. 23||Kingdom Prep (Auburndale, Fla.)||IMG Academy||7 PM|
|Oct. 6||Trinity Catholic (Ocala, Fla.)||Trinity Catholic||TBD|
|Oct. 20||Berkeley Prep (Tampa)||Berkeley Prep||TBD|
|Oct. 27||West Park Prep (Hollywood, Fla.)||IMG Academy||7 PM|
|Nov. 3||Key West, Fla.||Key West||TBD|
|Nov. 11||Sunshine Athletic Conf. Bowl Game||IMG Academy||TBD|