It has been a decade since Frank Hepler commanded the sideline at his alma mater, Plantation High School, but the 52-year-old football coach said Saturday he has never stopped feeling like a Colonel.
“We had an old saying there,” Hepler said. “Once a Colonel, always a Colonel.”
Well, until you are not.
Hepler, who spent the past six years leading West Forsyth High in Georgia to a 58-17 record and four playoff berths, is a Nova Titan now. He took over for Bill Hobbs last month after Hobbs left for another coaching job in Georgia. Hepler said Hobbs called him to give him the heads-up that he was on the way out.
Now Hepler, who was momentarily the defensive coordinator at Cypress Bay when he first moved back to South Florida earlier this summer, is back in the same district with the school that has never left his heart.
“I’ve followed it closely and talked to a lot of the guys,” said Hepler, who in 14 seasons through 2004 as head coach at Plantation went 135-10. “Every morning, I would pull up the Miami Herald or Sun Sentinel and watch the video clips on there. Coach Reagan, their defensive coordinator, played for me at Plantation. Coach Davis does a good job. It will be very odd to line up against them this year.”
With 35 lettermen returning, including eight starters on offense and six on defense from a 5-5 team, Hepler is hoping the Titans can push Plantation for the runner-up spot in District 15-7A. He didn’t say it, but it’s acknowledged by almost everyone that St. Thomas Aquinas will be the team everyone chases – maybe in the entire state.
“Defensively, we have some really good athletes on that side of the ball,” said Hepler, who takes over a Nova squad that produced five shutouts last season. “Offensively, we do also. We’re running a spread offense, but it’s going to be a little multiple spread, almost like what Auburn did.”
While he was coaching in Georgia, Hepler said he spent a lot of time with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn the past two years.
“I worked their clinics, went to their camps and stole some of their stuff,” he joked. “I’m not saying we’re going to look like Auburn. But it’s going to be pretty good. I’m excited about it.”
The Titans have not made the playoffs since 1994.
“But what a great attitude they have,” Hepler said. “They’re willing to learn. I talked to them and said, ‘When I took over Plantation back in ’91, I’d wear a Plantation T-shirt to the Broward Mall and people would snicker at me. It wasn’t too long, three or four years, I’d wear that Plantation T-shirt and people would start pointing at you.’ That’s what we’re trying to build here at Nova. Right now, they don’t respect you like maybe they need to. But keep working hard, and we could be there.”
District breakdown• Team to beat: Aquinas. There may not be a more talented team in the country than the Raiders, who could have as many as 18 Division I recruits on this team. Four transfers from University School have bolstered the roster, led by UM commitment and star tailback Jordan Scarlett.
• Biggest game: Plantation at Nova, Sept. 19.
• Predicted order of finish: 1. St. Thomas; 2. Plantation; 3. Nova; 4. Hollywood Hills; 5. South Broward.