Prep football | Once a backup QB, Manatee's new head coach has returned to rule the sideline

jlembo@bradenton.comJuly 6, 2014 

John Booth’s days at Manatee were spent primarily as a backup.

So he went to college and made an All-America team.

Booth played quarterback during his days as a Hurricane and a MidAmerica Nazarene Pioneer.

So when the Kansas City Chiefs signed him as a free agent, turned him into a wide receiver and shipped him to NFL Europe, Booth helped the Amsterdam Admirals win a championship by recording 103 receiving yards during World Bowl XIII.

Booth landed his first head-coaching job at Bloomingdale Valrico, a program with one winning season in its history, and went winless in his rookie season.

So last year's team came within a game of reaching the playoffs.

When applying to be the new head football coach at his high school alma mater, Booth was up against four Hurricanes assistants and two other coaches with championship-heavy resumés.

So Booth nailed his interview and will be formally introduced Monday morning as Manatee's new head coach.

Notice a pattern?

Booth, a 2000 graduate of Manatee who turns 32 this month, has a reputation for overachieving. Now he's up against a monumental challenge: Taking over a tradition-rich program that watched 12 seniors sign National Letters of Intent in February, lost its entire offensive line and a quarterback who accounted for more than 2,000 yards of offense last season.

Oh, and don't forget Booth is following Joe Kinnan, who won five state titles and 290 games in 30 seasons at Manatee before announcing last month that he was taking a medical leave of absence for the 2014-15 school year. Or that the Hurricanes haven't lost a regular-season game since Week 3 of the 2011 campaign.

Yet those who know Booth expect him to do what he did as a player: grind.

"He wasn't a huge, big guy, but he knew he could play," said Manatee assistant coach Chuck Sandberg, who just wrapped his 28th season on staff. "Very smart, very headsy guy. And he said, 'I'm going to play somewhere.' He maximized his God-given ability and wasn't going to let anyone tell him what he could or couldn't do."

Booth spent his years at Manatee playing behind Domonique Dunbar, who signed with Louisville and now coaches Manatee's cornerbacks. So Booth headed to Kansas and had a banner career at MidAmerica Nazarene, an NAIA school that inducted Booth into its athletic hall of fame in 2010.

An All-America pick in 2003, Booth was prolific throwing the ball (4,250 yards, 42 touchdowns) and running it (3,037 yards, 35 touchdowns, a program record 1,442 rushing yards in '03) during his days as a Pioneer.

"John Booth started one game at quarterback for Manatee when Domonique Dunbar was hurt," said longtime Manatee assistant and current defensive coordinator Jim Phelan, "but worked hard to turn himself into quite a player. He is considered the Michael Jordan of MidAmerica Nazarene.

"Everyone here loved coaching John."

Booth served as an assistant coach at Nazarene before getting his first head coaching job in 2009 with Bloomingdale High in Valrico. He inherited a team that lost 20 seniors and went 0-10 during his first year.

But the Bulldogs got better each year, winning two games in 2010 and four each in 2011 and '12. Bloomingdale's 2013 edition finished 6-4 and nearly made the Class 8A playoffs before suffering a Week 9 loss to Tampa Wharton.

"They started getting better as a ballclub," Wharton coach David Mitchell said. "They played with a little more purpose. It came down to us or them getting in the playoffs."

Despite falling short of the postseason, last year's Bulldogs recorded the second winning season in program history.

"He was an important factor in changing the direction of the football team. He brought a winning attitude to the school that the players bought into," said Bloomingdale athletic director Donny Peak. "His work ethic was matched by his coaching staff and players to continue to build something special. He will be missed."

Now he's at Manatee after having beat out more than 70 applicants and a pool of finalists that included current Manatee staffers Phelan, Sandberg, linebackers coach Chad Choate and quarterbacks coach Chris Conboy as well as Jason Milgrom and Bart Sessions. Milgrom is the co-offensive coordinator at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most successful programs in the country. Sessions won three state titles in Alabama as a defensive coordinator.

It was just another example of Booth beating the odds. And no one expects him to change anytime soon.

"He definitely persevered, which is a big character quality to have," Sandberg said. "I'm impressed with his situation. He's done a great job. He's very respectful of our program, and he wants to learn. I think he'll do a nice job."

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