IMG Academy football sets the bar high

jdill@bradenton.comNovember 22, 2013 

The IMG Ascenders take the field for a Sept. 27 game against Orlando First Academy at IMG. Photo courtesy IMG ACADEMY

BAYSHORE GARDENS -- When IMG Academy decided to compete in high school football, there were many questions about the type of program the private sports academy in Manatee County would have.

After the Ascenders finished their inaugural season at 8-2, the answers are clear.

"As we reflect now and go back and watch the film, and look at these guys on an individual basis, I think it's quite remarkable what we were able to accomplish in a first-year program," head coach Chris Weinke said. "I think bringing kids in from all over the place, having never played together before ... at the end of the day our goal was to try to win every game, and we fell a little bit short. But very proud of my coaching staff and the players and what we were able to accomplish."

Here's a look at some of

the highlights:

August

As fall practices got underway, IMG received a giant weapon on offense when running back Bo Scarbrough (University of Alabama commit) transferred from a high school in Alabama to play for Weinke and Co.

Then, Scarbrough showcased just why the Crimson Tide have eyes for him when he racked up 232 rushing yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns in a 38-0 Kickoff Classic victory over Palm Beach Lakes Community.

The game, marked by a lengthy weather delay, marked the unveiling of IMG's state-of-the-art football stadium.

The Ascenders followed that up with a road victory against Orlando Olympia, where defensive end Kyle Forde produced a four-sack game to give IMG its first official win.

"That was our first regular season game, and I was able to get four sacks," said Forde, a senior, who is getting looks from Buffalo and Nevada and led the team with 18 1/2 sacks. "That's where my success got started in terms of getting sacks on the quarterback."

September

The Ascenders had three of their four games at home and won each one en route to starting the year 5-0. It was indicative of how fast IMG's players gelled on the offensive and defensive sides.

October

This was arguably the biggest month for the program as the season wound down. Opening October's action at Monsignor Pace, the Ascenders traveled to Miami and left with a victory -- a difficult task for any program, let alone a start-up.

Then IMG dealt with the loss of Scarbrough to injury as well as its first setback, losing 27-24 to Jacksonville Trinity Christian.

With Scarbrough out, the Ascenders shifted to a more pass-happy offense with Penn State-bound quarterback Michael O'Connor leading the charge.

IMG's most memorable victory occurred on Halloween, without Scarbrough, against Clearwater Central Catholic (ranked No. 3 in Class 3A at the time). The game went to overtime and was the final home game for IMG in 2013.

"The back and forth, the ups and downs," junior offensive lineman Tyree St. Louis said about when he recalled from the CCC game. "The mistakes we made, how thinking about it now, if I had done one thing different (or) any one of us did one thing stronger or faster or different or did a little bit slower, that would have probably changed the complete outcome of the game. That was literally technique football."

November

Concluding the season on the road against Naples, IMG lost its second game of the year with some sloppy play. The Ascenders went 1-1 without Scarbrough.

"He's a dynamic player that doesn't come by very often. So there's no question that we were smart as coaches in that we wanted to feed him the ball, because he's a game changer," Weinke said. "So the identity of the team changed a little bit in the last couple weeks, and we had to do some different things in our approach."

The future

The Ascenders lose 23 seniors, including four from the secondary. But the program is looking to keep growing as it returns as an independent in the Florida High School Athletic Association next fall.

And all the 2013 opponents, except for West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman, are slated to be on IMG's 2014 schedule. The program has two-year deals in place with those clubs.

Only the Newman game was a one-year deal, Weinke said, which leaves an open date.

"We'll look at scheduling," Weinke said, "and my hope is that those teams that we played this year will want to play next year. ... The goal is to identify a couple out-of-state teams. We're excited about that and having discussions about maybe making an out-of-state trip as well as having an out-of-state team coming here. So I think that keeps the schedule exciting for us."

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