Phillip Prior is now the sixth head football coach in Strawberry Crest’s history.
Following Ron Hawn’s retirement from coaching football this summer, the Strawberry Crest Chargers have handed the reins over to Phillip Prior just before the start of the 2019 season.
This is the second time Prior, 33, has led a program. He was named head coach at Poinciana in 2018 and, though the Eagles finished with a 2-8 record, there were some high points. For starters, Poinciana won back-to-back games (Oct. 5 vs. Tohopekaliga and Oct. 12 vs. Christ’s Church Academy) for the first time since 2014. Although the Eagles suffered four blowout losses, the other four losses came by a total of just 15 points. Poinciana may not have won many games — which one could say about any of the team’s last 14 seasons, per MaxPreps.com — but Prior was pleased with the way the team played competitive football.
Before joining the Chargers last month, Prior was working as an assistant coach at Wharton High School. Prior is a Wharton alumnus who played wide receiver for the Wildcats during his time there. He was an eight-year veteran of the Tallahassee high school scene, having served on the staffs at Chiles (six years), Godby (one year) and Leon (one year). He has been an offensive coordinator for both Chiles and Leon and notably helped Chiles book its first-ever playoff appearance in the 2015 season.
Unlike last season, when Prior was named head coach in the spring, he’s only had about a month to work with the Chargers. He’s spent the past four weeks learning the ins and outs of the roster and settling himself in, so the Chargers haven’t had much time to get comfortable with his playbook.
“It’s a short timeframe to get a lot of things cranked up,” Prior said. “My first goal, when I first got here — and I told this to the kids — is that I want the kids to get to know me and I want to get to know the kids.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was any successful high school football team, but everything had to start with an attitude and a culture that carried over into all parts of life. That’s Prior’s main focus at this point in his tenure with the program.
“I want to set the expectation and the standard for this football program,” Prior said. “In those (four) weeks, leading up to now, being in the weight room and getting on the field, stuff like that, I think the kids got a good idea for some of my expectations… we kind of held off on some of the Xs and Os stuff. We really made sure that, as a coaching staff, we were all not he same page with regards to our schemes and expectations.”
Perhaps the number one thing Prior wants to instill in the Chargers is the desire to compete and never stop doing so. His approach is slightly different than that of James Booth, who made “Compete” the official motto of the Plant City Raiders nearly as soon as he got to the school in 2017, but the end goal is ultimately the same. Prior brought a pair of his own mottos to Dover and is hard at work making them ubiquitous within the program.
“Win each rep” is pretty self-explanatory. You can’t throw a ball at a coaching summit without hitting someone who likes to tell the media “we’re taking it one game at a time.” The Chargers are going as far as to take things one rep at a time and never stop competing. Maximum effort is required. Every drill, every test, every set in the weight room gets treated with such urgency.
“Fail, don’t quit” is not an attempt to build a losing culture at all. It’s Prior’s spin on saying “never give up.”
“Push yourself to where you physically can’t do it anymore,” Prior said. “Not to where you’re like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a rep or two, I’m gonna tap out.’ It was awesome to see when our kids really started to realize that, ‘Hey, we were stopping but we had four or five more reps in us.’We don’t want our kids to quit, whether you’re up or you’re down. We’re gonna push our kids to sell out and have fun playing this game because that’s what it’s about.”
Prior does have plans to change things up as far as the playbooks go, especially on offense. He used a pro-style offense at Poinciana and wants the Chargers to run a lot of gap schemes. Defensively, Crest will base out of a 3-4. Prior wants Crest to establish an identity and reputation as a physical, hard-nosed team.
“We’ve got to do three things better than anybody,” Prior said. “We’ve got to tackle well. We’ve got to pursue to the football and we have to create turnovers. Those are the things that we’re going to emphasize on our defense… on offense, we’re gonna show a commitment to running the football and we’re gonna be very efficient in our passing game.”
Prior’s not entering the program with promises to have things turned around in a specific timeframe. He won’t put any number on wins and losses (again, one rep at a time). He’s focused on a ground-up rebuild of the program while putting the athletes in the best possible positions to succeed.
“I told the guys (July 29),” Prior said, “‘It doesn’t matter what has happened in this football program. The decisions that you make from here on out and the sacrifices you’re willing to make, the amount of work you’re willing to put in, that’s gonna determine our success moving forward.’”