The Jupiter Christian “Miracle”
This past weekend I was a speaker at the Pop Warner Treasure Coast coaches clinic held in the West Palm Beach, Florida area. Also speaking was Bill Powers, head football coach at Jupiter Christian High School. Bills teams have won back-to-back State Championships and are on a 28 game winning streak. The amazing thing about this story is Jupiter Christian prior to Bills arrival had never had a winning season. In fact the 2 years prior to Bills arrival the team went 2-17 and were outscored by over 600 combined points. The previous head coach resigned, declaring the football program “dead” and suggested it be discontinued.
Under Bill Powers leadership, the school has not only gone 45-5 and won 2 State Titles, but they are now competing with and beating schools with much larger enrollments. Jupiter Christian has just 250 students, but Jupiter regularly competes against schools with student populations of 400, 600, 1,000 and yes even one with over 2,000 students. In 2008 they played 3 different 4A schools with enrollments of 1500 or more. Perennial powers like Glades Day dot Jupiter Christians schedule as well as even out of state powerhouses from North Carolina and Georgia. This season their schedule includes several 4A schools again and even a 5A school (Lake Worth) with over 2,000 students. These guys are the Fresno State of High School football, anyone, anytime, anywhere.
What Kind of Ammo?
What seems so odd about this story is the team is not made up of big kids or great athletes. Not a single Jupiter Christian player from a Bill Powers team has gone on to play Division I football under scholarship. In fact starting quarterback Marshyl Rothman wasn’t even sure he liked football, he was a hockey player and stands just 5’8” and 170 pounds. Starting fullback/linebacker Will Powers (Bill’s son) started as a sophomore on the offensive line, before moving to fullback. At just 5’7” and 185 lbs he looks like a throwback in those 2007 game clips, wearing jersey number 65.
Watching Jupiter Christian game film is like watching a David vs Goliath movie nearly every game. What I noticed first was the shocking disparities in size especially in the offensive line. In many of the shots it looked like a college team lining up against a Pop Warner Midget team. The second thing I noticed was the incredible quickness of Christians offensive line as well as the outstanding execution and consistent effort of this entire squad.
From Youth Coach to State High School Championships
Another kicker to this unlikely story, Bill Powers and his staff had never coached High School football prior to taking over at Jupiter Christian. Bill was a former State Trooper, then Stock Broker, then successful business owner. He had however been a very successful Pop Warner coach. Yes folks, he went straight from Youth Football to winning State Titles in the High School ranks. His offensive line coach Tom Morton, offensive coordinator Jim Davis and assistant Tim Derrico all coached with Bill in Pop Warner.
Fortunately for me, my good friend Kevin Justice knows Bill Powers well and he arranged for Bill and I to have lunch and dinner together during my Florida stay. I wanted to find out what was so special about Bill Powers and how he engineered this amazing turnaround. Bill Powers has a very strong presence, at age 49 he looks just a few years removed from being able to strap it up and play himself. Just like his offense, he is very economical with his words, he uses just the minimum to get the job done, there is no fluff. Confident, but modestly giving credit to his assistants, players and supportive administration, he is an easy interview, my kind of guy.
How They Did It
When asked what 5 actions of his had the most impact on turning the program around, he didn’t have to think at all, the answers flowed quickly. He felt the number one reason for the turnaround was getting the kids to believe they could win. He constantly bombarded them with stories of the unlikely hero, the player or team that everyone thought was too small or not athletic enough to prevail, but did. He told his players about friend Sam Mills, a 5’7” Pro Bowl linebacker, who no one wanted out of high school. After a stellar career at Montclair State, a Division III school, Mills was cut from 2 NFL squads as well as a CFL team. A full 2 years after playing his last college down, he caught on in the USFL and his coach Jim Mora took Mills with him to the Saints and then later to the Carolina Panthers where he went on to play in 5 Pro Bowls.
Powers sold his kids on the idea they had no choice but to outwork their opponents in order to compete. He made them face the harsh realities of the numbers and size disparities they would be facing and sold them the only solution was to outwork their opponents. Their mantra is “overachieve”, it guides their every action, they break every huddle with it. They are relentless, whether they are lifting weights, doing speed training, doing 7 on 7 or playing lacrosse for Jupiter Christian with you guessed it, Bill Powers at the helm. Bill is a huge fan and proponent of football players playing lacrosse.
Powers and his staff started at ground zero with this team and they haven’t strayed very far from their ground zero practice plans. They are fanatics on perfect fundamentals, pad level, footwork, swinging the hips, they leave nothing to the imagination. They don’t scrimmage much, but work every day on the basic blocking and tackling that is the cornerstone of every great team. The schemes Bill Powers teams run are not complex, in actuality they probably run fewer than 20 different plays. But they do use many formations and motions to gain advantages. Bills offense mirrors his minimalist approach to the game, breaking the game down to a few critical success factors and requiring perfect execution and sustained effort of 4-5 seconds on every snap.
Jupiter Christian’s coaching staff demands it’s players play with enthusiasm, 100% effort and execute. They hold the kids accountable to that standard and by all appearances it looks like the kids are “all in” to use a popular poker phrase.
Coach Powers was also quick to credit the school administration for their support as well as the hard work of his very dedicated but now growing coaching staff. They endlessly study film to improve their teams. While they certainly meticulously analyze every opponent on film, you find this staff of film junkies looking more at how they can improve their execution and get every last bit of talent squeezed out of the hand that was dealt them. That includes things like having one of your best young running backs starting on the offensive line.
One of the biggest benefits I get from all the coaches clinics I do is getting to sit down and learn from guys like Bill Powers. Lucky me, I get the benefit of his 4 years of real life experiences, without having to suffer them myself. Simply put, there aren’t many like him though, to have done so much with so little in such a short time period and with a coaching pedigree many long time coaches would raise their noses at.
For those of us out there who are trying to turn around a difficult situation, there is hope, there is a template you can follow, it can be done. But the answer is in economy, don’t try to do too much, but what you do, perfect it. Get the kids to believe in themselves, that they can succeed, give them hope. Know what you have and what you have to do in order to have success, be the very best fundamental blocking and tackling team in your league.
Hold your kids accountable to playing with enthusiasm, 100% effort and perfect execution. Care about your players so they go “all in” and you can get the kind of effort Bills kids give. Coach with enthusiasm and intensity and lead by example, you can teach work ethic. As Coach Powers showed, there are some concepts that are universal to both youth and High School football teams, it’s up to you if you decide to apply them or not.
Many thanks to Bill Powers for spending the time with me to help me understand how they achieved this remarkable turnaround, so other coaches out there can help their kids have a much more enjoyable season. He is the finest, best of luck to him and the Jupiter Christian kids this year with the brutal schedule ahead of them.
Here are some clips of Bill’s son Will Powers and the Jupiter Christian Eagles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BvtjYIhUKk
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