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Matt Thompson is the head coach of Wildwood High School in Florida.

After a one year stint at Paris High School, Matt Thompson has found a home in Florida.

Thompson, who played football at both North and South Laurel and Western Kentucky University, has guided the Wildwood High School Wildcats to a 9-1 season and a district championship in just his first year as head coach.

“I took the head coaching job down here in March, and we have exploded since,” Thompson said. “The 9-1 record is the best this school has had since 1986 and our district championship is only the second in the past 10 years.”

While Thompson’s time at Paris didn’t result in a winning season (2-8), he did learn some valuable lessons which has helped him at Wildwood.

“Mostly the diplomatic part of being a head coach,” Thompson said. “Having assignments for every coach. I’ve got great assistant coaches. I’m a coach for the coaches. But I still call the defense and a lot of the special teams. I’ve also had to learn about how to work with the administration and community. When I arrived here I had a humble approach about what we were going to accomplish. Take things step-by-step. Now, we’ve kind of overachieved.”

Thompson said at Paris, when he first arrived, he talked about getting back to the playoffs in his first year. “When you do that, you set yourself up for failure. I learned that the hard way.”

And many of his players have received individual honors this past season.

De’Andre Mitchell was named Regional Player of the year in Class 2B, and currently is looking at offers from Vanderbilt, Colorado, Boston College, South Florida and FAU. Junior running back Rodney Rose is rated fifth-overall in central Florida in rushing and is tabulated to be a 5 Star recruit out of Florida next year and possibly a first team all-state preseason selection. Linebacker Shawn Raymond was named first team all-region; Demetire McCray, first team all-region defensive back; Akeem Marsh, first team all-region offensive lineman, and Thompson himself was honored as Regional Class 2B Coach of the Year.

When Thompson arrived at Wildwood, he started a new football booster club which has since raised over $30,000 for football facilities and equipment upgrades.

After beating The Villages 42-35 to win the Class 2B, District 5 championship, the Wildcats downed Gateway 46-7 in the opening round of the playoffs, and will face Sarasota Cardinal Mooney next.

“I’ll say one thing about our team,” Thompson told the Orlando Sentinel after the win over The Villages. “This might not be the most talented team that Wildcat ever has had, but I doubt if any Wildwood team has worked as hard as this group has.”

And while Thompson is enjoying his success, he admits that he still has a deep passion for Kentucky and Laurel County.

“I grew up there, and I really love it,” Thompson said. “Everybody down here has been very supportive, and I do love it here. But never say never. If the situation was right, I would consider coaching in Kentucky.”

When asked about the North Laurel job, Thompson said he hasn’t applied for it, and no one has contacted him about it. He first heard about the opening from his current principal, who is originally from Clay County.

“That’s a tough spot for me,” Thompson said. “I would love an opportunity to coach in Laurel County, and it would be a feel good story. But I’ve got a gold mine here right now. Unless somebody contacted me, I won’t put my name in the hat. If somebody contacted me, I might consider it.” He added that he felt like, with the right amount of focus on football, that North Laurel could build a good program.

Denis House can be reached at sports@sentinel-echo.com.

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