Back to basics for the Raiders

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 4/6/22

ORANGE PARK - Orange Park High’s newest head football coach, Marcus Wimberly, brings a wealth of football experiences; high school Tennessee top scoring offensive player, University of Miami wide …

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Back to basics for the Raiders

Posted

ORANGE PARK - Orange Park High’s newest head football coach, Marcus Wimberly, brings a wealth of football experiences; high school Tennessee top scoring offensive player, University of Miami wide receiver to safety standout with a national championship runnerup finish and the National Football League as a top draft choice, but his notion of creating wins at Orange Park High School seem pretty simple.

“Back to basic; get strong, run a lot, be in shape,” said Wimberly, a very fit 37 years old, after a pass and catch session with Clay Today Sports Editor Randy Lefko that displayed that smooth, relaxed, but expertise pass catching ability that carried him through the three levels of the game of football. “I don’t look a guy over when they approach me and say they want to play. I wait and see what happens on the field. Some guys that don’t have the “Look” can sometimes be the best player on the field. I’m a testament to hard work works.”

Wimberly, who will inherit plans for a new football stadium and facility in the next two years, takes the reigns of Raider Nation very familiar with the history of the program and with the intention of trying to restore some of the history.

“I’ve seen that in the 90s, this program was on the top of their game and made some deep playoff runs,” said Wimberly. “I don’t know what changed in recent years, but I know it’s the basics of football; blocking, tackling, catching the ball and stuff like that that are the keys to success on the field.”

As a high schooler in Memphis, Tennessee, Wimberly’s football ramped up to a leading scorer; 26 or so touchdowns, on a Memphis East High team that was a state contender each year.

“In Tennessee, it is just the top two teams that advance and we were third a lot; lost in the semifinals my senior year with an 8-2 record,” said Wimberly, who clocked a 4.42 40 in his speed days. “After that, got to play at Miami in the Dennis Erickson era and was in the game we lost to Alabama for the national title.”

His career at Miami got curtailed with a patella injury that sidelined him for his sophomore and junior season, but did not deter his being drafted by the NFL Atlanta Falcons after his senior campaign when new coach Butch Davis put him at safety.

“The injury just lingered when I got to Atlanta and I had to make a decision about my life’s future,” said Wimberly, married with three children. “I went home and started coaching at Memphis East and should have won two state titles. We got one in 2016 we went 13-2. In 2015, at 12-2, we lost in the semifinal with probably my best team. We just didn’t show up to play.”

Wimberly’s college highlight was the national championship game against Alabama as a freshman and an interception he snagged against Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb, who quarterbacked the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins as a pro.

Wimberly said his intention was to always return to Florida, but to stay north of the Miami area and that got him to Orange Park.

“The family atmosphere here has been awesome,” said Wimberly, who has ushered in some pre-spring football conditioning. “First thing is to get strong. Conditioning and discipline are two things I strive to attain.”

One thing Wimberly has on his positive side is all state offensive lineman Roderick Kearney, a 6’-5”, 314 product that has garnered a ton of big school interest through his junior season, and JoJo Restall, probably the hardest downhill running back in the county.

“Those two are a good starting point with the receivers here; Nolan Chambers and his guys, are all top quality guys that can jump start the program,” said Wimberly. “I had one of the best running backs in Tennessee when we made our playoff run so that was the starting point.”

One quality Wimberly liked with Memphis East team was that in his first playoff run, his team had to overcome an early season loss to keep pushing toward the playoffs.

“Learning to learn from a loss was a part of that season even though we lost to the same team in the playoffs, but the team had to wake up, regroup and win games to eventually get to the playoffs,” said Wimberly. “That’s resiliency.”

Wimberly brings some new coaching faces with him including a former Miami running back teammate, James Jackson, and a defensive coach from Memphis East, Coby Hasley, but had Orange Park veterans Corey Hawkins and David Ballantine back in the program.

Wimberly looked forward to the county rivalries locally with Fleming Island back on the Raider schedule for 2022.

“There is good football here and it makes everyone better,” said Wimberly. “I want us to be a big part of that.”

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