BRADENTON -- Kevin Wright has only been the head football coach at IMG Academy for about three weeks, but already some of the changes he plans to make with the Ascenders are tangible.
It's evident from the way IMG practices that speed is going to be a point of emphasis in 2015. Every drill on offense and defense is rapid fire to prepare the Ascenders for the up-tempo system Wright hopes to implement during his first season in Bradenton.
"I like using tempo as a weapon," Wright said. "I think that's part of having that in your arsenal."
Last season, IMG ran a pro-style system under head coach Chris Weinke and lined up under center about 40 percent of the time, Wright said he has learned from film study of last year's team. No-huddle was still part of the offense, but it was only a facet in one package, not the basis of the entire system.
With the high-flying offensive weapons the Ascenders possess -- the roster features two four-star receivers, a four-star running back and a five-star receiver, according to the the prep website 247sports's composite -- a spread-out, high-speed offense is a logical fit at IMG.
Last year, "it was only in certain packages," said Tavares Chase, a four-star wideout and Clemson commit. "Now that's what we do all day in practice. Everybody's gotta be on the up."
It's already having an impact on the defense, too. The Ascenders are breaking in a
new defensive coordinator after announcing the hiring of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive back Donnie Abraham on Tuesday.
Abraham, who left Clearwater High in April, hasn't had much time to implement his specific defense. Instead his personality and passion are what have left the greatest impressions on IMG so far.
"The physical toughness that coach has brought in and the speed that we're playing at, it's fun," linebacker Brendan Pyne said. "It's fun blitzing people."
Wright said hiring Abraham was an obvious decision. The Ascenders received about 120 applications for the defensive coordinator position, and Wright said he could tell almost immediately after the interview that Abraham, a Pro Bowler for the Buccaneers in 2000, was the right choice.
"You're looking for a guy that's special, that can complement your staff," Wright said. "He's got the player's perspective from a high level, but he's also been a high school head coach and so he knows how to communicate on that level."
IMG has enough talent in place for Wright and his new staff to continue the successful foundation Weinke built during the Ascenders' first two seasons. The bigger issue is getting a group of talented players from around the world, many of whom are only in Bradenton for one year, to come together as one by the start of the season.
Spring, therefore, is critically important for Wright, and the weekend his team spent locked in together for a "boot camp" in the IMG Academy Field House was even more crucial.
And Chase thinks it was successful. The Ascenders spent 36 hours together during the weekend before spring practice began, and it set the tone for what should be another strong season at IMG.
"At first everybody had their own egos," Chase said. "Once it clicked, and once we had that training, it brought everybody closer together. We just took a step forward."