Wellington football experiencing stunning turnaround
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
by Randall P. Lieberman
Thomas Abel could teach political candidates a thing or two about messaging.
Wellington's stern-voiced first-year coach hasn't strayed from his key talking points since taking over the football program after last season. That focused approach has paid early dividends for the Wolverines, who are 3-0 and have caught the attention of area fans following a decade of disappointing football.
Now Abel's undefeated team is staring down its biggest game in recent history -- Friday night's road test with District 9-8A rival Seminole Ridge in a matchup that has major playoff implications.
"It's going to be like that as long as Wellington keeps me on as head coach," Abel said of his communication strategy with his team. "Aggressive, aggressive, aggressive. Playing together, playing for each other. They haven't seen that at Wellington in a long time."
It's been a long time coming for Wellington, which hasn't had a winning season since 2002, when the surprising Wolverines finished 6-4 in the regular season and lost a regional quarterfinal against Deerfield Beach. Since that season, Wellington has gone 22-66 with a pair of one-and-done playoff appearances out of a three-team district.
Last year's team won its first game, a 20-19 thriller against Boynton Beach, then lost the next nine, prompting the resignation of coach Chris Romano.
Enter Abel, who was an assistant under Romano for five seasons and comes from a Midwest football background, having played college ball at Findlay in Ohio and coached high schoolers in Michigan.
His offseason message was simple: Wellington would be steady defensively, which would carry the team until its young offensive line caught up. His team would be disciplined on and off the field, and eventually start generating some excitement in the community for Wellington football.
No one expected that to happen in three games.
"They're very confident," Abel said of his team, "but I always tell them not to read the newspapers and just focus on us. We're keeping that mentality."
In three wins, Wellington's workmanlike defense has allowed a total of 20 points and forced six turnovers. The offense, meanwhile, has done just enough to win, averaging just more than 16 points per game.
"They're the same scrappy team they've always been," Seminole Ridge coach Matt Dickmann said of Wellington. "This year they're not turning the ball over and they take advantage of it."
Abel spoke in the preseason about modeling his program after Ridge's, while hoping to surpass the Hawks at some point. Ridge enters Friday's game in near-desperation mode, 0-2 with two dismal performances under its belt. A preseason favorite and state-ranked squad, Ridge considers this week's game a must-win.
So does Wellington, something that would result in a smile from even the most confident Wolverine back in the offseason.
That decade of disappointment featured two 1-9 seasons and a winless 2007 campaign. From 2004 to 2006, Wellington won two games each season.
Yet here they are, 3-0 because of good defense and a disciplined coach who stays on message like a good politician.
"They believe in the system," Abel said, "and they're starting to believe in themselves."