SARASOTA COUNTY

Warrior Mentality: Cultivating The Venice Football Mindset

Venice, February 28, 2019- After closing out the 2006 season at 1-8, the Indians were looking for change. A year later- instantaneous turn-around, finishing at 7-4 as district champions and over a decade of following positive records to show for. Commitment and discipline- two words you’ll hear preached a few times within this piece, that inevitably were and still are this programs’ building blocks to success. Let’s take a deep dive into what flipped this program right-side up and the kind of dedication that comes with wearing the green and white in Sarasota County.          

“I think it’s a culture and an expectation more than anything- our kids, teachers, and trainers know exactly what’s expected here and everybody’s on board. We’re not going to talk about how hard we work, we’re going to live it out every day; the same thing goes for discipline and on Friday nights it shows up in the games. We try to live every day and be better than we were; our next game is Lakeland High, the defending state champs, so we have a competitive spring game ahead and I’m excited to kick things off against them,” states Head Coach John Peacock. 

“It’s been a learning process for me, at end of the day, you’re judged off records of wins and losses. We never focus too much on the score or on our opponent solely, besides preparation and those mandatory kinds of things. We try mostly to hone in on our kids every day and focus on the next task at hand- we approach our workouts like games and the expectations from top to bottom are extremely high.” 

As the Big County Preps history record shows, since head coach John Peacock’s arrival in 2007, the team hasn’t settled for less than 7 wins in each season- unquestionably consistent if you ask me. This 2018 season, Venice made an impressive run for states, tying the knot at 12-2 and 5-0 in their 7A district 11 standings (1st of 6 teams, 3rd of 87 teams in all of Class 7A). The Indians are ranked 57th in the nation and are listed at 10th in the state of Florida. 

The Venice Indians winning the 7A state title in 2017.

Coach Peacock continues compassionately, “We won a state championship in 2017, but a lot of people didn’t see the times we were making it into the state-semis consistently and coming so close, but couldn’t hold it together. As coaches and players, we got over the hump of hurting ourselves internally. The commitment the coaches have shown the players in everything they do has really been the key- that’s why I got into this. To be here for the kids through thick and thin, bring them to the next level, develop them physically and mentally and then sell them so to speak, to scouts and recruiters to continue on their careers.”

“We do a lot of things in our training- we try to build mental toughness just as much as physical; I think that’s one the biggest things that have kept us consistent throughout the years. There’s been a lot of factors of course, but I believe it’s a bunch of little parts that make up the whole- whether it be one incredible player we’ve had that can take over a whole game or a bunch of great players coming together, it’s a by-product of our work and it carries over to our scoreboard. Many schools you see now are going through a lot of turnover with coaches departing and staff changing, but I’ve had my staff together for the most part for eleven years, and we always know what our game plan is.” 

“Even the kids in our feeder and pop warner programs know what they will be getting into- developing them early on is a big part of high school and even college football. If you look back to thirty years ago there were coaches sticking with the programs for extensive lengths of time, but it’s just not the same mindset anymore.  The commitment of not letting your brother down and the love is more real here; opposed to recruiting an all-star squad for the next upcoming year. That’s the advantage we have- the tight bond of developing these kids from day one and not being handed an already built product.”

Venice workout preparing for a strong spring.

“When I took over, we paid attention to detail the most in everything we did; again, let’s not talk about being disciplined or working hard, it’s all about the kids and putting them in the best positions. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I wasn’t the best coach- there were a few games in my first year that we wouldn’t lose now, I know that for sure.” 

“We were just so hungry and committed to the process- it was one of the most exciting and most fun years. Then winning the district against Manatee and becoming champs after a one-win season the year before, it was just so special- an amazing time. We have no cheerleading experience- don’t do the rah-rah pre-game stuff and all that, we just look at what we’re out to accomplish that day, and the kids know we love them- it’s just a good atmosphere for an athlete to develop and play football.” 

As we grow as mature beings and our mindset advances (hopefully), we tend to care less about outsiders’ opinions on ourselves, what and who we do things for, as well as our actions. But, we’re talking about high school kids here- the thinking is more attention-based. You can win a bunch of games and have some great pieces surrounding you, and I get when it comes down to it you’re mainly playing for yourself, to prove that the hard work was all worth it and to all the people that believed in you throughout the journey. 

But, I imagine players look up into the stands from time to time, seeking more support in the Friday night lights and think to themselves, who else are we playing for? Never heard of a team that didn’t desire any sort of attention or press for their achievements and setting a standard, because the top of the heap never fails to go unnoticed. That’s why having a communal backing is so impactful.

Venice asst. coach Larry Shannon instructing his linebackers.

The mentor concludes, “If I wasn’t here apart of the program, I would send my kid to these coaches to grow because of the pure devotion this staff has for the kids’ aspirations. Can’t always be about wins and losses- it’s about…are we doing the best for that kid’s future every day; if you’re not, you’re not going to get much in return. In football, life or school, whatever the case may be, he’s going to want to run through a wall for us if we fully invest our time into these guys’ development.”

“Don’t get me wrong, we are tough coaches and coach hard, but it’s out of compassion and love for the kids and the game. We’re fortunate to receive a lot of great community support in many ways, including an unbelievable financial backing as well. Overall, it’s a real special atmosphere to coach and play high school ball- not that many schools in Florida get the kind of support this community provides us with, so we’re thankful for that.”  

Vaughan Sixbury, BCP Contributor