Ridaught: Pruitt looks to turn Williston around

Robby Pruitt is back in Florida and that can be both good and bad news for the Sunshine State.

Pruitt is to this area what Corky Rogers of Bolles (Jacksonville) was.

In fact, when Pruitt was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2000, he had won more state football championships than any other coach in Florida high school history.

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I first met Robby in the early 90s when he was the head coach at University Christian (Jacksonville).

I grew up in Jacksonville and that’s where I made my debut as both a writer and a sportscaster. I ended up broadcasting football for UCS, a place I attended school for nine years, in 1995 after Pruitt had left for Union County (Lake Butler).

Pruitt won four state football championships at UCS (1987, 1989, 1991, 1992).

He set a then state-record 52-game winning streak, eventually snapped by the Lakeland Dreadnaughts, during Union County’s three straight state titles (1994-1996).

That was seven state titles in Florida for Pruitt, who left for Georgia in 2000.

In the Peach State, he led Fitzgerald to the Class 3A final in 2000 and Coffee to the 6A championship game in 2017. 

According to Todd Holcomb of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Pruitt, whose 376 victories were the second-most among active Georgia football coaches, took the Williston job to move closer to his parents and allow him to work toward getting retirement benefits in Florida.

Holcomb said he’s already qualified for retirement in Georgia and needs one more year in Florida.

Pruitt takes over a Williston program that went just 1-8 last season.

“If you look at the situation, in the last 12 years they’ve had one winning season and that was 6-4 so we’ve got to get them used to believing in their self and we’ve got to get them in the weight room,” he said. “They just haven’t had a program.”

Williston hasn’t really had a weight room either, according to Pruitt, but they are getting a new one, along with a brand-new field house (converting a 15,000-square-foot building), and brand-new uniforms.

“Brand new everything,” Pruitt said. “It’s almost like starting a program from scratch.”

But that suits Pruitt, who is going into his 40th year, just fine.

“I’ve never been to a place that’s been really good before I got there,” he said. “I kind of enjoy doing that. It’s been my whole career.”

On Thursday night in 16 minutes of action, Williston shut out Bronson, 16-0. They stuck to the basics of the running game and kept it simple on offense, only putting in “about four or five plays and two or three formations,” according to Pruitt.

“The spring is just so tough, coming to a new place, but we had the FFA Banquet, and a basketball banquet, and award nights and honor nights, so it’s hard,” he said. “Hopefully we will get a lot better this summer. We’ve got a lot of good things, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

The Red Devils have a young team with not many seniors starting, “a lot of juniors and sophomores,” he said.

“The thing that we’ve got to do is just get stronger,” Pruitt said, who noted how important the weight room was to the success of his past programs. “You’ve got to have a program.

“When I was at Union County, they went for a long time without making the playoffs before we got there and we did the same thing there, got a field house, put in a weight program, got the kids in class (working out every day).”

Now that the spring is over, Williston will be adding more in June.

“We’re starting a nutrition program this summer,” he said. “We can feed them breakfast, feed them lunch, get them on protein, work them out, get a weight room going, we’ve just got to institute a program. We’ll get a little better and a little better.”

Pruitt added that about seven years ago Williston dropped its middle school program and just had a JV program, which was seventh through ninth grade. He said seventh and eighth graders didn’t get to play as much and ended up not liking the sport.

“We’ve got 64-65 kids, which looking around is a pretty good number, but a lot of the kids just haven’t wanted to play,” Pruitt said. “Football’s hard enough now because everybody wants to play baseball and basketball because it’s just easier.

“If you do a baseball and basketball program in the summer, it’s going out of town, staying in motels, swimming during the day, and playing baseball or basketball at night. Football, you’re pulling sleds, and pushing tires. It ain’t fun, but practice is not fun when those young kids came out and didn’t get to play so I’m starting a middle school program this year and then we’re going to have a JV team too.”

The start of fall practice (Aug. 1 for non-contact) is just over two months away.

“We’re still trying to figure out where to put kids,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got a long way to go but we had a good spring. We’re better now than we were.”

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