PALM COAST — From his junior year in high school through the first seven games as a freshman in college, Robert Ripley lost 29 straight games.
It wasn’t fun, he says, but it built character, the kind of character Ripley hopes to inject into the Matanzas High School football program.
Ripley was announced Feb. 21 as the next football coach at Matanzas — the third in the school’s history. He will step on campus March 17 as a coach and a graduation coach for the school.
Ripley comes from St. Augustine High School, where he was the wide receivers coach last season. He’s no stranger to Flagler County, though.
He was a defensive lineman and a fullback for Flagler Palm Coast, where he graduated from in 1999. Over his four-year career as a player on the Bulldogs, he won seven games.
He played college ball at Upper Iowa University, which was a NCAA Division III program when he played. (The Peacocks have since moved to Division II.)
Ripley was one of the coaching candidates who applied after former coach Keith Lagocki stepped down. Ultimately, Jeff Nettles was hired. Nettles stepped down after one season.
Last season, Matanzas struggled with player personnel — with the team reaching about 35 dressed players on the roster toward the end of the season.
Ripley said Monday that he expects between 35 and 50 players when spring ball rolls around, but that number could grow or shrink.
Play defense and work hard
Ripley will run the defense at Matanzas. He said his team will play defense before it plays offense.
“I don’t think they’ve ever done that,” he said. “We need to get tougher. It’ll be a culture shock at first. Everyone will have a defensive position. If the other team doesn’t score, you can’t lose. That’s how I was brought up.”
There really won’t be an offseason, either. Ripley said the weight room and being involved in other sports are recipes for success on the football field.
“It’s not going home," he said. "It’s not sitting still."
Creating a legacy
Perhaps the thing Ripley wants to accomplish most — in addition to winning — is creating a name for the Matanzas football program.
“Half the battle is trying to create something as a coach,” he said. “You want to find a place that you can make your own.”
Creating his own culture will be Ripley's No. 1 priority.
“I think the first thing is you have to get the kids on board,” he said. “Get the kids excited. We’re going to do some things: change the logos, get new uniforms.”
Matanzas is 27-52 in its first nine seasons, with an average season of 3-7. The Pirates are a combined 0-11 against Flagler Palm Coast and Pedro Menendez (Matanzas’ two geographical rivals) and have won a total of six district games in eight seasons. (The Pirates didn't play a district schedule in their first season.)
Ripley said he knows he can’t fix all that overnight. But he expects to play off the recent success of Matanzas’ winter teams. (Both soccer teams reached the Final Four, and the boys basketball team made it to the district semifinals, marking it the best winter sports season in school history.)
“You have to strike while the iron’s hot,” he said. “I can’t promise wins, but I can promise a process. I can promise a program.”
HISTORY AT A GLANCE
New Matanzas football coach Robert Ripley isn’t a stranger to football. This will be his first head coaching gig, but he’s been to the playoffs with three of the four schools in which he has been a part of the coaching staff.
Flagler Palm Coast: defensive line, running backs, assistant head coach
Pedro Menendez: wide receivers and running game coach
Warner Christian: defensive coordinator and assistant head coach
St. Augustine: wide receivers coach