Focused, driven and determined. That’s the best way to summarize the mindset of Wellington High School head football coach Tom Abel as he and his 10 assistant coaches prepare for the start of the delayed 2020 high school football season.
It’s fair to say that Abel and his staff are making every effort in practice to get their players on the same page of commitment, intensity and execution. In fact, don’t be surprised if Abel’s Wolverine gridiron squad plays football this season with the kind of passion and purpose that their coaches preach and profess. Abel’s commitment to excellence starts with his decision to limit the roster to 48 players.
“We’re allowed 60 players, but I have chosen 48 players who believe in commitment, character and brotherhood,” Abel said. “I have 48 players who were committed to getting in shape in the off-season.”
Abel’s squad has a fair amount of experience with 17 of last year’s 22 starters on offense and defense back this year.
Throughout the summer, as the pandemic kept everybody at home and players away from traditional team conditioning, Abel stayed in touch with his players. He reminded them to stay in shape as they prepared for another football season. They just didn’t know what the football season would look like or when it would begin. But now they do.
This year’s football season at Wellington High School will be different than it has ever been in the history of the program. Instead of a 10-game regular season with the possibility of winning a district title and qualifying for the state playoffs, this year’s regular season will feature just four games followed by three playoff games against teams from Palm Beach, Broward and/or Miami-Dade counties.
The reason for the shortened season, which doesn’t start until Oct. 30, is the presence of COVID-19. Precautions and safety measures are now in place that are allowing football to be played. This includes social distancing, when possible, during practice, and coaches wearing masks.
Wellington’s four-game regular season schedule begins and ends with games against local rivals.
On Friday, Oct. 30, Wellington opens against the Wildcats from neighboring Royal Palm Beach High School. On Nov. 6, the Wolverines play the Pahokee Blue Devils, followed by the Santaluces Chiefs on Nov. 13. On Nov. 20, Wellington meets the Palm Beach Central High School Broncos for local bragging rights and custody of the Wellington Cup. After that, there will be three playoff games against to-be-determined opponents.
All regular season high school games in Palm Beach County will be played at one of three locations: Jupiter High School, Boca Raton High School and Wellington High School. All three schools have new all-purpose fields. Fortunately, the Wolverines will play all four games on their home field.
All public schools in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties have opted out of the Florida High School Athletic Association’s traditional state series, which crowns state champions in eight different classifications. However, Abel expects execution excellence from his offense, defense and special teams in all seven games to be played this year, as if the state championship title was up for grabs in every game.
“Our goal is to go 7-0,” Abel said. “That’s the plan.”
If Abel’s plan is to work, then he will need execution excellence from his two quarterbacks — senior Rony Saintbert and sophomore Ryan Anthony — as well as productivity from five seniors who he predicts will make a significant impact in every game. Those five seniors are defensive end Isaiah Favors, offensive lineman/defensive lineman Denali Smith, linebacker/running back Johan Henry, inside linebacker Landon Davis and kicker Matt Palma, who is a strong favorite to the win the Lou Groza Award for the top high school placekicker in Palm Beach County.
Abel rates his two quarterbacks as “outstanding players who can both run and pass.” In fact, he expects to call many plays this season where both players will be on the field at the same time. “We have some wildcat packages that we will run this year,” Abel said.
Clearly, if the Wellington Wolverines go undefeated this season, as Abel hopes, then it will take all 48 players with a focused, driven and determined mindset — just like their head coach.