Spotlight: Harry Lees
Harry Lees had a good thing going at West Florida Tech but there was an aspect of high school football he was missing.
It seems he found it at Milton, as he goes to work on trying to restore the program's past glory.
His first head coaching job was at tiny Zion Chapel in Alabama. He had surprising success with little resources. But when he took the top job at West Florida Tech in 2010, building a winner seemed a long shot..
"It was a job that really nobody wanted and I'm even sure I was their first choice, that's how far fetched it was, me getting that job. The first year year was kinda like the first year at Zion Chapel. it was rough but we had a lot of injuries and we overcame it. You learn a lot of things about yourself and things you're doing when you're going 1 and 9 I promise you," Lees said.
But after that debut season, he turned the jaguars into an area power. District champs in five of the last six years. A big part of the success was an evolution on offense. A guy steeped in the run game he learned under coaches like Mickey Lindsey at pace and Ronnie Gilliland at Escambia, realized the personnel at West Florida was best suited to going spread.
"Coach later on asked me one time 'where'd you get your offense from' and I joked I said 'the internet'- kinda joking, kinda serious. If the material's out there, can I teach it to kids and can they learn it," Lees said.
They did, and under Lees the Jaguars became a prolific spread attack. But with the all the success at West Florida, Lees felt an element was missing, a sense of community. And that's a big reason he left for Milton.
"We have this big stadium and it's really tightly packed. There's not much like it. Pensacola football is great, but the sense of community in Milton is phenomenal," Lees said.
But it's program that's fallen on hard times in terms of success on the field. In the last nine years, just one playoff trip.
Lees is trying to bring the structure he feels makes the difference.
"We've had to stay on grades and do the little things that, I guess we've got that going at West Florida - that's really routine for those guys - and now we're just trying to establish it as routine here," Lees said.
"He's changed the culture of the team, the grades, everything about the team. We've actually bonded as a team this year," said Lonnie Bennett.
"He's very up tempo in practice, he's very positive, we work harder. New era, honestly," said Aubrey Williams.
The optimism was put to the test after an opening week home loss to Washington.
They have responded with a pair of encouraging wins.
Injuries have forced some tweaks in lees spread offense, but he has a senior quarterback that is excelling in Aubrey Williams. Eight touchdowns only two interceptions in three games, and a Panthers defense low on superstars but high on effort has been impressive.
It's all renewed a spirit of belief, that behind their new coach they can restore greatness to this proud program.
The atmosphere is all Coach Lees knew it would be and there are some other bonuses to being at Milton.