Upstart little Village Academy has star receiver Devonte Robinson and hope
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
by Jeff Greer
Village Academy head coach Don Hanna (left) says wide receiver Devonte Robinson is "giving us an identity." (Photo by Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
DELRAY BEACH -- Six years ago, Village Academy football was just a few equipment boxes and an idea.
There was no practice field or weight room, just a handful of coaches and a small group of students, many of whom had never played football.
But if you visited Merritt Park, a small, rectangular lot in the shadows of Delray Beach's Atlantic Avenue, recently, you would have seen a 6-foot-2, 175-pound receiver named Devonte Robinson soaring above teammates and snatching a lofted pass at the height of his leap.
You could say Robinson embodies how far Village has come.
Already verbally committed to West Virginia - choosing the Mountaineers over six other BCS scholarship offers - Robinson, a senior, is the first Village player ever to commit to a Division I program.
"He's giving us an identity," Village Academy coach Don Hanna said. "He's a trendsetter."
The team also has 5-foot-9 dual-threat quarterback Larry Brihm, a muscular junior with a strong arm, and Kenny Williams, a receiver/safety who looks like a basketball player in pads.
But the team, entering its third year of varsity football, still only has 28 kids on the roster, a reminder that Village is still a developing program.
Finding a home
Hanna, 27, started out as the defensive coordinator at Village. He was a graduate assistant at Albany State in Georgia before returning home to Delray Beach. He took over as head coach four years ago.
He still remembers sitting in the coaching offices and planning the program.
"The equipment was just purchased, sitting there in boxes," Hanna said. "We had no practice field and a lot of kids who had never played organized football."
Village started out playing a junior-varsity schedule, facing other schools' second-tier teams. They went 4-5 in 2009 and the same last year, ending the season with about 17 players on the roster. They also suffered a 37-8 loss to eventual state champ Glades Day and a 49-12 loss to St. Andrew's last season.
But things seem to be turning the corner. The school of 173 students had 40 kids show up for football on Monday and the school plans to field a freshman team next year.
Plus, Village takes satisfaction in how last season ended.
Village entered the last game of its district schedule with a shot at a three-team playoff. The Tigers were 3-1 in District 7-1B and needed to beat two-time state champion Jupiter Christian. Even though Village lost 48-18, Hanna hangs his hat on that game, mainly because his young Tigers hung tight for three quarters, trailing 21-12 entering the fourth.
"We try to mold ourselves after Glades Day and Jupiter Christian," Hanna said. "They've got a formula for success. It's just crazy to think we went from a JV team to competing with them for a playoff spot."
Work to do
And hope's even higher this year because of Robinson.
Former Florida State and NFL receiver Jessie Hester, who coaches Suncoast and has seen Robinson play at 7-on-7 tournaments this offseason, recently called the youngster a "thoroughbred."
He's the perfect trailblazer for a young program, someone who came up through the ranks.
Because Village is a K-12 choice school, the football team relies heavily on the kids who enroll as younger students. Many of the students on Hanna's roster started at Village when they were kids, and the 2012 senior class will be the first group to play all four years.
Robinson has attended Village since first grade.
"Those other schools, they already have a name," Robinson said. "We're the first group of seniors coming out and we're part of an up-and-coming program. One thing we always talked about was loyalty - you start here, you finish here. That's what I'm doing."
Few expect Village to be a power anytime soon, but that's no shock to Hanna, or his team.
They realize it's going to be an uphill battle to bring down the Glades Days and Jupiter Christians of the world. They also realize they're not doing too bad for a program that was just a bunch of boxes and an idea six years ago.
"Everything's just coming to a rise," Brihm said. "The program has changed a lot. We'll be the trendsetters that the kids at Village look up to."