JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bobby Ramsay watches players do sprints in the parking lot of the school on a humid weekday morning. It somehow feels normal.
He’s held practices before in parking lots, including during his state championship season at Mandarin in 2018. Of course, that was out of an inconvenience when rain saturated the practice field. At Impact Christian, which will play its first season of 11-man football this fall, it’s out of necessity.
And Ramsay doesn’t mind one bit.
Impact Christian now calls home one wing of the Regency Square Mall. Its first full school year there began last fall. And players get in one portion of summer workouts during certain days in the school’s parking lot.
There’s been plenty of change at Impact, headlined in athletics by the hire of Ramsay to lead the program in its leap from eight-man to 11-man football this fall. In and of itself, that jump alone is significant as participation in 11-man football continues to drop in the state.
Over the last five years of available data by the the National Federation of State High School Associations and the Florida High School Athletic Association, participation in 11-man football in Florida high schools have dropped from 43,515 in 2016-17 to 36,176 in 2020-21. But Ramsay has been all in on the move and said that the change has been refreshing.
He likens the installment of a program at Impact to what he experienced at Yulee when he inherited a program in its second year in 2008 and built from there into a state semifinalist in 2012. The Lions will play as an independent this fall.
“I think just kind of understanding what’s ahead, you know, the speed bumps and best way to handle those issues when they come up is preparing us for kind of what we’re going through,” Ramsay said. “Your first summer anywhere there’s a lot of learning going on. You’re learning the players, you’re learning the place, you’re learning yourself as a coach and growing, so all those things are kind of happening right now.”
Ramsay was hired by Impact in late April, a big move by the growing program. Ramsay was the state’s 2018 coach of the year. He guided eventual Mr. Football winners Carson Beck and Derrick Henry during his coaching career at Mandarin and Yulee, respectively.
“It’s been it’s been a lot of fun. Seeing these guys come together and develop. You know, it’s such a ground floor kind of situation here especially moving from eight man to 11 man and, you know seeing the program grow, seeing the players grow in the weight room, grow on the field, see their expectations rise. It’s been a lot of fun, it really has.”
Ramsay spent five seasons at Mandarin before being let go last November following a 5-5 season. He was 29-27 there, including a Class 8A state championship in 2018. At Yulee, Ramsay was 64-36 and never had a sub-.500 season.
Impact Christian’s athletic success has largely been contained to the boys basketball program, a team that has become a state contender annually under coach Ben Jones. The Lions have played for the Class 2A state championship three times since their first season of postseason eligibility in 2018. Impact last reached the final in 2021.
“Our goal is to work to win every week. And I think long term our goal is to compete for championships. It’s one of the reasons I was interested in the job in the first place,” Ramsay said. “… they said they want to compete on the level of the basketball program and the basketball program’s been to the state championship multiple times and is doing really well. Our goal is to get on that level and ultimately compete high on the state level for championships.”