Bolles job was always a dream for new coach Matt Toblin

New Bulldogs coach eager to get on the sidelines for state's top program

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Matt Toblin is ready for the opportunity. 

At Bolles, they don’t come around too often, not in football. 

Roll the calendar back to 1989 to find the last time that the Bolles football job was technically open. 

Then-Bulldogs athletic director Frank Callihan coaxed Corky Rogers to leave Lee High School and take a chance with Bolles. Rogers went on to win a state-record 10 championships and was elected to just about every hall of fame that he was eligible for. Wayne Belger succeeded Rogers and went to the state playoffs both seasons, including three rounds deep in 2018.

Toblin, 39, who played at Mandarin under both Ricky Medlock and Craig Howard, saw that Bulldogs success as most others on the outside did. 

As a player, he wanted to beat them. 

As a coach rising in the industry, he wanted to be a part of it. 

Now, he is. 

“I grew up in Mandarin and so it’s been probably 20 years, I dreamed of the idea of one day being special enough and good enough that I could be a part of this program,” said Toblin, a 1997 Mandarin graduate who was announced as the Bolles coach last week. 

“This place is special and I think everyone in the Southeast, when [the job] opened up, took a good look at it. I don’t know that there’s not better football coaches out there, but I believe there was not a better fit.”

Toblin’s career trajectory since getting in to coaching has been on a steady tick upward. He spent a spring coaching with Freddie Stephens at Stanton. He worked at Orange Park with Ron McCrone and then Fleming Island with Neal Chipoletti. But it wasn’t until Toblin landed with Howard at Nease in 2004 that coaching felt like it clicked.

That season, quarterback Tim Tebow’s otherworldly junior year, helped springboard Toblin forward. 

“I learned something different from all of them,” Toblin said of his career trek. “But [coaching with] Craig Howard, that just felt right to me. … It didn’t feel like home, didn’t feel right until getting with Craig at Nease.”

Toblin coached on those Nease teams that played in three consecutive state title games (2005-07), including winning the 4A championship in 2005. He worked under Danny Cowgill for a season after Howard left for the Columbia job in 2008 before landing his first head coaching job at Clay in 2009. 

Toblin won back-to-back district championships with the Blue Devils before giving college football a try, joining Howard at NAIA program Southern Oregon.

He returned to the area after two seasons there because Toblin said that he missed the teaching, watching kids develop over the course of their careers and reach their potential. High school was also a bit better stability for Toblin and his wife, Kayleigh, and their schedules. 

Toblin went 39-18 in five seasons as Ponte Vedra’s head coach, taking the Sharks to the Class 5A state championship game in 2016 and to the state playoffs in three of those other seasons, too. 

With the exception of Mr. Football winner Nick Tronti in 2016, Toblin’s Sharks’ teams were more the blue-collar and hard-working types rather than major college football recruits. 

The change is a big one for not only Toblin, but the high school football landscape on the First Coast, too. With Rogers and Belger no longer on the sidelines, that's a lot of football history off the field.

Rogers arrived from Lee in 1989 as an already established coach (he had 141 victories from 1972-88 with the Generals). He retired with a 465-84-1 record. Belger (15-9) coached the Bulldogs the last two seasons before retiring. 

That’s a combined 574 games since 1989 coached by two men who helped turn Bolles into the state’s measuring stick for success. 

Toblin knows all about that history and welcomes it. 

“We are in an unbelievably positive situation where we can take what’s already here, and is awesome, and add to it, that’s what my job is here,” Toblin said. “Take what Coach Rogers has built and find ways to just make it better. And I know that sounds weird coming out of my mouth; how do you take something like that and make it better? But that’s what we’ll try and find.”

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