After a tumultuous spring, when the teaching contract for Seahawks head coach Tony Yeomans was not renewed, and a replacement coach selected, it looked like Franklin County High School’s football program was in trouble.
There was no spring jamboree game slated, and some players were reluctant to come out, given their ties to Yeomans.
But new coach Joshua Palmer has tackled his first ever head coaching role with steady control, and he’s optimistic that next year can be even better than in 2018, when the team made its first-ever post season appearance.
“We’re going to roll with the guys who want to be there. We’re going to make the best of that situation,” said Palmer. “We can be just as successful, if not more successful, than previous years."
A hiring committee of six individuals, Athletic Director Scott Collins, Principal Michael Snead, Assistant Principal and head basketball coach Nathan West, Director of School Safety Rob Wheetley, volleyball coach Tara Klink, and cross country coach Kati-Morgan Hathcock, in April recommended Palmer, who teaches high school phys ed and coached the track team last year, from among the pool of applicants. The school board followed with its unanimous approval.
Even Yeomans, who did not apply for the job and who has since lodged a complaint with the Florida Department of Education, alleging irregularities with how Superintendent Traci Moses handled his dismissal, has voiced his support for Palmer, who he first brought in as an assistant coach.
“The community needs to rally around josh Palmer he’s a good man, a hardworking person,” said Yeomans, who has moved on to a coaching assignment in Gadsden County. “The community needs to support him like they supported me
“They need to back these kids and back him, he’s a great young coach. He cares about the kids, he cares about the program,” Yeomans said. “I trusted him enough to hire him. You aren’t going to find a better person.”
Palmer, who coached track last season, will definitely be a strong presence on the sidelines, at the very least for his giant size.
His playing weight as a standout lineman, both on offense and defense, for the Tate High School Aggies, located in Cantonment north of Pensacola, was six-foot one-inch and 320 pounds.
He was good enough to land a Division 1 football scholarship to Florida Atlantic University, but three games into his senior season, he blew out his knee, and his future not as a player, but as a teacher and coach, was decided.
He’s brought in as offensive coordinator a high school buddy, Christian Smith, who helped take West Florida Tech, a Class 5A school to the Final Four. He’ll work as a paraprofessional the high school.
The other supplemental will got to Franklin County teacher Cody Tillis, who will work as defensive coordinator.
Working as volunteer coaches will be Palmer’s dad, Sandeno, who they call Sandy. The 58-year-old has more than three decades of coaching experience, having won a Pop Warner national championship in 1995, and nearly repeating the following year but for a goal line stance.
Coach Sandy, retired from the Navy, has coached in the semiprofessional ranks as well as at high schools, and does private training on the side.
Volunteer Eddie Money will also be on hand to assist with the defensive line, as will Ashley Teat, who will work with player development, and lining up pregame meals and other community support. “He’s the coach the guys can go to and get some advice,” said Palmer. “He’s a huge asset with the community.”
The key thing about his assistants that Palmer stresses is that he does not believe in strict hierarchies and iron-clad separations of roles.
“At the end of the day it takes a whole staff working together with a common goal,” he said.
One role that he’ll have his assistants fill is to serve as recruiting coordinators, working to make sure dedicated players have a chance to move on to the college ranks.
“We’re going to try our best to get them there,” he said. “Any kid that desires to play at that next level, we feel it’s our job to help them get that opportunity.”
He now has about two dozen young men, from grade eight through 12, committed to the program, and will reach out for more in the weeks ahead of the start of formal practices at the beginning of August.
“Summer workouts are up and down, there’s a lot of kids that work,” Palmer said. “When kids are free they’re there.”
The team lost to graduation at least 16 seniors, including about five of them who played on both sides of the ball.
Gone are Simon Brathwaite, Tonnor Segree, Ethan Riley, Micah McLeod, Bailey Segree, Cameron Wynn, Duncan Whaley and Bryce Kent, all “guys with huge impact,” but Palmer is looking forward, not backwards.
“Some of these guys that have been watching and learning are ready to step into that role,” he said.
Two standout players who transferred are sophomore Colin Amison, who headed to Port St. Joe, and senior Javon Pride, who’s moved to Gadsden County.
“He (Pride) just received his first college offer and he attributed a lot of that to us,” Palmer said. “A kid like that should have had offers a year ago.
He said Pride accompanied a dozen Seahawks on a trip to Mercer University and Georgia State at the end of May. “There was a lot of team bonding, it was an overall great experience,” said Palmer. “He got a lot of exposure.”
He said he’s working the summer boys hard, leading one to comment that he appreciated the tough challenge because “you’re the first coach to ever make me throw up, thank you
“They’re buying in to our program and the things we’re doing,” he said. “I believe in doing things the right way. If there are roadblocks you do the best to work around them.
“Compared to previous years, to me it’s true success if you have more than a .500 record,” he said. “We’re here to win ballgames, not sugarcoat things.”
Palmer has high praise for the young men who he will be working with, led by junior Lamarius Martin, who is pegged to start at quarterback and double as a defensive starter at safety or cornerback.
“We think he has all the attributes to be a great quarterback,” said the coach. “And with his running ability, he’ll make defenses think twice.”
Seniors Zander McCalpin and Nic Hutchins will each play both offensive and defensive line, anchoring the team as senior leaders.
Junior tight end Charlee Winchester will play tight end and fullback, and then perform as inside linebacker.
Junior Eden Brathwaite, will like his older brother Simon did last season, will be playing varsity football for the first time. He’ll appear as starting wide receiver, and possible defensive cornerback.
“He should be a huge factor, he’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever coached by far,” said Palmer.
Eden sports a full head of hair, down to his shoulders, so he’ll have to fit that under the team’s newly reconditioned helmets. They have been repainted with a metallic white, with silver flakes that will shine under the Friday night lights.
There’s a new striped decal on front, and on one side of the helmet will be FC, and on the other the player’s number.
“To me it all comes down to buying in and belief,” said Palmer. “One guy may not be as good as the next but you make it happen.
“All plays are drawn up to be touchdowns,” he said. “It comes down to belief, that you’ll execute and do your job.”