Senior staff writer
Former assistant football coaches Brandon Winters of Southport and Matt Henninger of Perry Meridian have far broader responsibilities this season as first-time head coaches at those schools.
Winters succeeds Bill Peebles, who moved to Lawrence Central with the goal of rebuilding the Bears’ once-feared football program. Peebles coached at Southport from 2005-15 and compiled a 62-56 record but was a remarkable 60-28 during the last nine seasons.
Winters was an assistant coach for 11 years at Southport, including the past five years as defensive coordinator. His first coaching and teaching jobs were at Southport, where he graduated in 2002 after playing football and basketball.
“I feel very prepared,” Winters said of being at the helm. “Obviously there is more responsibility and it will take more time, but I have a lot of good assistant coaches.”
Winters praised Peebles for being inclusive with his coaching staff with the knowledge that they may become head coaches too.
“For me it (head coach) is not that big of a jump because I have 100 percent confidence and trust in our assistants,” Winters said. “I am learning something new and taking on new challenges each day, but you have to surround yourself with good people and let them do their job.”
He has no real coaching idols but expressed admiration for Peebles and of former Butler University basketball coach Brad Stevens because his players bought into his system, and he continues to achieve that with the Boston Celtics.
Southport is faced with replacing several athletes to graduation, including all-Marion County Player of the Year Luke Johnston (Marian University) at quarterback, but has several veterans back on defense and offense.
Henninger follows Scott Marsh, who becomes an assistant coach at Roncalli, where wife Missy serves as girls varsity volleyball coach. Marsh rebuilt the Falcons in terms of participants and had three 5-5 seasons while compiling a 27-45 record over seven seasons.
“I’ve walked into a very good situation,” Henninger said over morning coffee at Starbucks. “I know the players, the coaches, the building, the administration, so that part of it has been seamless.”
Henninger, like Marsh, wants to build the football program to the same culture in the community as the wrestling program was constructed under former coach Jim Tonte, now at Warren Central. Henninger’s goal is to get youngsters, from elementary grades through middle school, involved in football.
“It’s all about building relationships,” said Henninger, who has a great advantage because Perry Meridian is constructing its own stadium. which should be completed for the 2017 season. I’m picking up where coach Marsh left off. We have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t work with our players. We share a lot of athletes (wrestling, basketball, etc.) but to be fair to the kids you want to allow them to do as much as they can as students, athletes and football players.
“We’re trying to keep the ball rolling. We want them to continue to be prepared and work hard; that’s what they did under coach Marsh for the past seven years.”
Henninger served as an assistant coach at Perry for 11 seasons. He played for the Falcons under coach Craig Potter on the school’s only regular-season undefeated team in 2002.
The homegrown coach has learned from Potter and Marsh plus former assistants Steve Wade, Steve Johnson and strength-conditioning coach Mike Toney. Four current assistant coaches played for the Falcons.
Henninger expects to field a team that has several leading tacklers returning. He expects the Falcons to be fast and physical on offense and defense.
Practice in full pads began this week.
Winters and Henninger played against each other in high school, which adds a new dimension to The Battle of Perry Township.
Both teams kick off their seasons at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, with the Cards hosting Roncalli at Perry Stadium and Perry Meridian visiting Greenwood.