Post Top 25 countdown: No. 18 King's Academy
Thursday, August 16, 2012
by Jeff Greer
Heath Nivens didn't come to King's Academy to rebuild the program. He doesn't have to: The Lions have reached the post-season eight times in the past 10 seasons, and even in 2011, a down year, King's still posted a winning record.
So, what does he have to do?
"We've already got kids who understand what it takes to win," said Nivens, who spent the previous five seasons coaching Jacksonville-University Christian, historically one of the state's most successful programs. "My biggest thing is building on that and taking the next steps."
Those next steps are important for King's, which lost coach Craig Dobson, who resigned for health reasons late last season, and graduated one of its most decorated players, running back Brian Grove. But with Nivens at the helm, there's a sense of calm about the future of King's.
Nivens, 33, already has nine years of head coaching experience, and his former teams in Jacksonville and his native South Carolina made the playoffs six of those seasons. King's edged up-and-coming Village Academy 29-22 in the spring, a positive sign that Nivens' off-season plan started well.
"We put a new emphasis on the off-season stuff, especially strength and conditioning, and installed a lot this spring," Nivens said. "That'll be a huge plus for this fall."
Nivens' biggest change is the introduction of the wing-T formation, designed to give the Lions extended possessions in a district with quick-scoring teams like American Heritage and Cardinal Newman. But it's not just an adjustment for King's -- Nivens always coached spread offenses before arriving in West Palm Beach.
James Holland (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) and Garrett Larson (5-8, 175) will carry most of the load for King's, while a stronger, more mature senior quarterback A.J. Pasquale will manage the offense. There's also a stable of three or four other running options, Nivens said, who will back up Holland and Larson.
"That was one of those (formations) that drove us crazy in Jacksonville, because you can't defend it the same way with your base defense," Nivens said of the wing-T.
The Lions' defense is the area Nivens changed the least. Already an established system, King's stingy defense has been a mainstay in the past decade, which is why Nivens kept defensive coordinator John James and several other key defensive assistants.
"Maintaining continuity was important," Nivens said. "This program has succeeded; why change it? I've tried really hard to not get in there and redo anything other than trying to get our kids to play continuously at a high level."