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Lake Minneola’s football hire adds to new coaches list on eve of spring practices

A new era of Lake Minneola football begins Monday with the opening of spring football practices for Florida High School Athletic Association programs.

Lake Minneola introduced new head coach Brett Bennett to players and parents Thursday night.

Bennett, the offensive coordinator for Escambia High in Pensacola the past seven seasons, inherits a team that has reached the regional final round four times in the past five years.

Escambia was the 6A state runner-up in 2019 during what was the first of back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

Bennett replaces Walter Banks, who chose to resign from his roles as football coach and athletic director at Lake Minneola last month but plans to remain on the faculty through the end of this school year. Banks led the Hawks to a 6A state runner-up finish in 2020 and had helped guide the school through its coaching transition.

“Making the decision so late in the school year and close to spring practices, I felt I owed it to the kids and the families to help out,” Banks said. “Spring is a big recruiting time for football. These kids, their families and this community have been so good to me.”

Banks has spent the past 27 years as a coach in Lake County, which includes stops at Groveland South Lake and Montverde Academy.

“The calls from current and former players and parents after I made the announcement shocked me the most,” Banks said. “When you’re coaching, you don’t think you mean that much to people, but that made me realize how many lives I’ve touched.”

The Orlando area enters the spring with 15 coaching changes among 67 FHSAA member schools in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake and southwest Volusia counties.

Innovation High opens as a relief school for Lake Nona this fall.

Colonial named defensive coordinator Austin Rocheleau interim coach for the spring after Woody Cox accepted the athletic director position at Seminole High in Sanford earlier this month.

Antony Smith returns to the area as the new head coach at Oak Ridge after holding that same position at Kissimmee Liberty in 2022. Smith spent last season at Melbourne Central Catholic.

Celebration made its second hire in three months when it named former Storm assistant Chris Blanton head coach in April. The latest change comes on the heels of “alleged recruiting violations,” according to the Osceola News-Gazette.

Blanton steps in for former Lake Buena Vista and Windermere High defensive coordinator Jed Ebersole, who didn’t last long after replacing Jeremy Palmer in January following back-to-back 1-9 seasons for the Storm.

Palmer is now the sixth head coach at Orlando University since 2017. That includes an out-of-state hire that lasted just three months in the spring of 2019. Mark Barrett went 4-16 with the Cougars the past two years.

Cypress Creek tabbed Ryan Mills as its fourth head coach in as many years and sixth coach since 2018. Mills was dismissed at Eagle Lake Lake Region in January, according to reports, after leading the Thunder to unprecedented .500 seasons the past two years.

Allen “BJ” Johnson returns as a head coach in Volusia County for a second stint as Deltona Trinity Christian’s head coach. He’s also been head coach at Deltona’s two public schools: Pine Ridge and Deltona High.

Windermere Prep announced the promotion of James Hamilton to head coach on April 11. The Lakers went 11-16 in three seasons under Brian Simmons.

Coaching changes

Former coaches listed in parentheses with years at school.

Celebration: Chris Blanton (Jeremy Palmer, 2 years)

Colonial: Austin Rocheleau, interim (Woody Cox, 1 year)

Cypress Creek: Ryan Mills (Raul Gomez, 1 year)

East River: Adam Chappell (Antonio Hernandez, 1 year)

Eustis: Joe Burnett (Frank Scott, 4 years)

Innovation: Leroy Kinard (Opens Fall 2024)

Lake Howell: Dazzie Morris (Shaun Lorenzano, 6 years)

Lake Minneola: Brett Bennett (Walter Banks, 9 years)

Leesburg: Frank Scott (Steven Moffett, 1 year)

Oak Ridge: Antony Smith (Andrew Anderson, 1 year)

Pine Ridge: Greg Miller (Eric Poyner, 2 years)

Poinciana: Taron Mallard (Randy Beeken, 5 years)

Trinity Christian: BJ Johnson (Bill Cosens, 1 year)

University (Orlando): Jeremy Palmer (Mark Barrett, 2 years)

Wekiva: Doug Gabriel (Jeremiah Rodriguez-Schwartz, 3 years)

Windermere Prep: James Hamilton (Brian Simmons, 3 years)

This article originally appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email J.C. Carnahan at jcarnahan@orlandosentinel.com.