Heritage High Builds Winning Football Tradition
By Jeff Navin // November 16, 2012
Improbable Playoff Dream Becomes Reality
BREVARD COUNTY • PALM BAY, FLORIDA – As a former high school football coach, Heritage High athletic director Greg McGrew likes to watch football practice. Once a football coach, always a football coach.
McGrew has found a lot to like this season as the Panthers have defied the odds to post a 9-1 record to earn a state playoff berth as the runner-up in Class 6A, District 13.
Heritage, which opened its doors with ninth and 10th graders in August 2009, almost won its first district title. A 7-6 late-season home loss to Palm Bay High dashed the hopes for an undefeated regular season, but it didn’t foil the playoff hopes for the youthful program.
Heritage will travel to Sebastian River on Friday night to take on the Sharks in the first round of the state playoffs.
“Coach (Ajay) Ulmer and his staff have done an outstanding job,” McGrew said. “The staff cares about the kids, they know the game and their work ethic is relentless. Look at the field; we don’t have that many big kids. You can see that they buy into the weights. When you have that combination, you’re 9-1 and heading for the playoffs.”
McGrew was able to coax Mike Davis, then the football coach at Bayside High, to become Heritage’s first football coach for the 2009 season. The team struggled to a 0-10 record with just freshmen and sophomores on that initial squad, which played a varsity schedule.
When Davis left the area in the summer of 2010 to take a college position as an assistant coach, McGrew had to find a new coach just before the start of preseason practice in August.
Ulmer, who was the head coach at Chiefland High for three seasons after serving as Melbourne High’s head coach for four seasons, heard about the opening at Heritage as he was planning to visit his parents in Brevard County. His father, Artie, was the longtime football coach at Palm Bay High.
“I definitely was ready to come back to Brevard County,” said Ulmer, who will turn 40 next month. “I had my feelers out. Mike Davis played for my dad and later coached for my dad when I was in high school. It didn’t hurt that I knew both (McGrew and Heritage principal John Tuttle) of them. I told them that I had a vision for this program and that everything was in place. I told them that I was the right person and that I had the coaching style to build this team.
“I knew that there was a lot of good talent hanging around that is always looking for a shot,” Ulmer said. “I felt like I could get them going in the right direction and allow them to mature.”
The sales pitch during the interview convinced McGrew.
“A lot of coaches applied for the job,” McGrew said. “After the interview, I felt he was the right man for the job. He had coached at Melbourne, played at Palm Bay and he was recognized as a big name in the area. He came in and put together a program with the discipline to win.”
Heritage High junior quarterback Clinton Moxam, who was entering his freshman year when Ulmer was hired, remembers the uncertainty.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Moxam, who played tight end and defensive end as a freshman. “Especially, after coach Davis left. Coach Ulmer has always been there for us, he’d do anything for us. I love this team and how we go out and fight for each other. We’re a new school and more people have school spirit now that they’re into what we’re doing.”
Good coaches don’t always guide their teams into the state playoffs.
“I didn’t think we’d do it this quickly,” McGrew said. “But with the staff we’ve got here, I can see why we’re here in the playoffs. The other sports are doing well, too. We’re right on track to be where we want to be.”
McGrew also was quick to praise Tuttle.
“He deserves all of the credit,” McGrew said. “He’s not just academics — he cares about the athletic program and wants us all to do well. He’s the No. 1 guy. Without him, we wouldn’t have the success we have right now.”