IMG Academy football program up and running as fall season approaches

New program marching toward first game in new stadium

jlembo@bradenton.comJune 13, 2013 

IMG Academy rising quarterback Michael O'Connor already has committed to play for Penn State. IMG's inaugural football team will begin play in its new stadium Aug. 24.PHOTO COURTESY IMG ACADEMY

BRADENTON -- The members of IMG Academy's inaugural prep football team won't be in the hunt for any district, regional or state championships this fall.

There will be no jockeying for a postseason berth nor clamoring for home-field advantage in any particular round.

No, IMG is not in trouble. Rather, the school is an independent member of the Florida High School Athletic Association and not affiliated with any district.

Yet Chris Weinke, the team's coach and the director of the school's football academy, isn't too concerned about motivating his players.

"Our goal is to provide an environment where the level is high athletically and academically," Weinke said, "because the ultimate goal is to have these kids move on and get a college education and play college football."

One of IMG's players has already taken that step. Mi

chael O'Connor, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound quarterback who hails from Canada, committed to Penn State last week.

"The recruiting process was a great learning experience for me, and in the end, I am confident in my decision to commit to Penn State," O'Connor said in a release. "Coach (Bill) O'Brien continues to recruit a standout collection of athletes, and I am both honored and eager to become an immediate contributor in 2014. In the meantime, I've worked hard this spring and can't wait to take the field for my senior year at IMG Academy."

More may be on the way. Michael Boateng, a senior cornerback, has garnered some interest, and lineman Denzel Ward has six scholarships offers, according to Rivals, with schools such as Florida and Arizona State clamoring for his services.

"There may be some kids who will train hard this summer and have good senior years," Weinke said, "but we don't have a team full of Division I players, I can tell you that much."

What IMG will have is its own stadium, a perk not too common for first-year programs, which often have to play games at third-party sites while their own on-campus facilities are constructed.

IMG will play in a new multi-sport facility that includes a 40,000-foot fieldhouse and a Bermuda-grass playing surface.

IMG will christen the stadium Aug. 24 when it hosts Palm Beach Lakes in a Kickoff Classic. The first regular-season game played there will be Sept. 6 against North Miami Beach.

"It's a huge advantage for us," Weinke said. "We're excited. It's a state-of-the-art facility, and obviously, our players are excited. It's a good facility for us as well as the area."

A lot is happening right now at IMG, but Weinke is confident everything will be ready in time.

"You always expect it to be a challenge," Weinke said, referring to starting a football program. "As a director and head coach, there are a responsibilities with that, and you're always making sure you're dotting your I's and crossing your T's. Fortunately for me, we have a great staff."

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