BY GENE NARDI
Wellington High School was one of the big winners on Tuesday, Dec. 9 when the 23rd annual Lou Groza Place-Kicker Awards Banquet was held at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
The event was coordinated by the Palm Beach County Sports Commission and presented by the Orange Bowl. The award is named after arguably the most prolific kicker in National Football League history, Lou Groza.
One of the keynote speakers at the prestigious event was Florida Atlantic University’s head football coach, Charlie Partridge. Also in attendance was legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger and former NFL quarterback Steve Walsh, head coach at Cardinal Newman High School.
The Wellington High School football team received nominations in all four local categories: Coach Tom Abel for Coach of the Year, Alex Ng for Kicker of the Year, Shannon Patrick for Player of the Year and the Wolverines for the Team of the Year award.
Wellington won three of the four categories, with Abel and Ng taking their awards, and the entire squad honored as Team of the Year.
Coach Abel, in just his third year taking over Wellington’s squad, after back-to-back 4-6 records, led the team to an impressive 11-2 overall record, an unbeaten district record at 4-0, the District 9-8A title and an appearance at the regional finals. The team’s record and two playoff wins were the best performance in the school’s 26-year history.
Abel’s additional contributions were orchestrating the squad’s aerial assault on offense, tallying more than 2,600 yards passing and averaging 40 points per game. His defense held teams to less than a touchdown in four of 10 games.
“A lot of hard work finally paid off,” Abel said. “I have the hardest-working staff in Palm Beach County. We stayed up endless nights to watch film, and then we’d do what we had to do.”
Wellington’s Ng proved all season why he deserved this award. He kicked five field goals, the longest at 42 yards, while connecting on 54 extra points after touchdowns. Ng also demonstrated his skill of perfecting the onside kick, launching an incredible nine successful ones during the season.
During the Wolverines’ 42-15 playoff-clinching victory over rival Seminole Ridge, Wellington achieved three extra offensive possessions by recovering three onside kicks. All season, the coaches titled Ng as a threat to other teams and called the onside kick an offensive weapon, not a sign of desperation. The Wolverines’ conversion rate with the onside kick was over 50 percent.
“It was very unexpected,” Ng said. “I wasn’t even prepared to give a speech.”
The final award was the Team of the Year. Wellington’s third-year performance earned them the coveted trophy. After finishing 4-6 last year and losing all three district games, the Wolverines went 9-1 in the regular season this year, went unbeaten in District 9-8A at 4-0, totaled two playoff wins, won the District 9-8A championship for the first time since 2010 with a 23-17 win over Palm Beach Gardens, and earned a regional final appearance.
Statistically, Wellington put together 3,619 total yards on offense. Defensively, they held opposing teams to less than 18 points per game and recorded two shutouts.
ABOVE: An emotional Wellington Coach Tom Abel thanks his coaching staff during his acceptance speech.