MILTON — There is a new leader of the pack at Milton High School.
Coach Harry Lees has taken over the football program; in the last seven seasons MHS has had a combined record of 30-45 under coaches Bobby Johns' and Chafan Marsh's direction.
During those same seven seasons, Lees led the West Florida Tech Jaguars to a record of 54-24 after his initial season of 1-9.
With this in mind, there are high expectations from Mighty Black and Gold fans, but Lees is being realistic for a program that has enjoyed only two winning seasons since 2010.
“I have tried to create a positive culture for the coaches and players,” Lees said. “We have some new coaches, new uniforms, new offensive and defensive schemes, but it all comes down to kids buying in and working hard.
“I understand that with this position there are certain standards that should be met. All I know to do is work hard, try and make our players into better young men and, in the process, create a winning culture.”
This is something that Lees successfully did after his first season at WFT, where he posted five seasons with nine or more wins and created the Jaguars into a formidable district opponent for teams like Pensacola Catholic and others.
One thing that will definitely look different is the offensive schemes used by the Panthers on the gridiron.
“We will run a multiple-spread formation on offense,” Lees said. “One time we might line up in five wide receivers and three backs and two wide outs the next.
“We are going to run what fits to our strengths.”
Defensively the Panthers have had some troubles, but that has also changed with new defensive coordinator Greg Revis coming into the fold.
“Our base defense will be a 3-4, but again we are very multiple,” Lees said. “Greg has brought an aggressive mindset to our program.”
The Panthers would love to have another year of service from Keith Waitman and Cody Hanks, who are preparing for their first season of college football, but there are players ready to step up to the challenge as the offensive and defensive side of the ball have five returning starters each.
“We are not overflowing with a lot of Division I talent,” Lees said. “But we have a lot of kids that love to play football.
“I believe you can win games with a team of guys that have bought in, are selfless, and play hard for each other.”
Besides the twist of a new head coach and new offensive and defensive schemes, there is another elephant in the room when it comes to the post season and prospects for the Panthers.
A new playoff system is in place for the 2017 season, when each district will crown a champion, but spots five through eight in the region will be decided by points.
If a team does not claim its respective district title, they will have to earn one of four wild card births across the region; this is due to the point system modeled off the one used in the Nebraska School Activities Association. It would allow more than two teams possibly qualifying from a respective district based on the points earned.
“I believe there was nothing wrong with the old way the playoffs were set up,” Lees said. “You win the games you are supposed to and you are in.
“Someone with a lot of power and influence probably got left out and devised a scheme that takes way too long to figure out and even longer to explain to everybody how it works.”
But before people start thinking playoffs, the first game of the season against Washington will be a key for MHS.
“All of our non-district games are important,” Lees said. “But Washington is the most because it is our first game and we need to prepare and learn how to defeat a quality, athletic opponent.
“Washington will be a good measure for that.”
When it comes to the district, which consists of Gulf Breeze, Navarre and Pace, that is a completely different story.
“We have to get better,” Lees said. “There are three quality opponents that are doing a good job at what they are trying to do.
“We have to find our identity and execute our style of football better than the teams in our district.”
The biggest thing for the 2017 edition of the Milton Panthers football team is they have to get their footing before they go on the prowl across Northwest Florida.