Two years ago, the Williston Red Devils went 1-8. Now, under second-year head coach Robby Pruitt, they have back-to-back undefeated regular seasons under their belts and are looking at a path to the state title.
The Williston Middle High School football team completed its second undefeated regular season in as many years as it defeated Citrus High School 65-7. For a team that won just one game in 2021, this is a huge leap forward.
Pruitt was hired as the head football coach for Williston prior to the 2022 season and made his impact right away. He led the Red Devils to a 10-1 season in his first year, with their only loss coming against Wildwood in the first round of the playoffs. Pruitt said being 10-0 so far this season “means absolutely nothing” with the playoffs coming up.
“I’m really proud of the guys on an incredible accomplishment, but the season doesn’t end now,” he said. “We’re going to have to go at it at practice this week and get prepared because phase two of the season starts now.”
Pruitt, a Gainesville native, began his coaching career at Union County High School in 1993. He won seven state championships in Florida and was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. He became the youngest coach ever to get inducted into the hall. At the turn of the century, Pruitt moved to Georgia where he coached for over two decades, when he decided to return to Florida and take the helm at Williston.
Lamar Waters, current athletic director and assistant coach at Williston, said Pruitt’s coaching ability is second to none.
“A coach of his stature comes in and sets the tone,” Waters said. “Coach Pruitt really just sets a culture. Working hard and doing the right thing when people are looking and when they’re not looking is something he has put in place. It’s all about doing the little things.”
Waters, who coached with Pruitt at Union County, highlighted the fact that players listen and absorb what they are told by Pruitt. He said this says a lot about the respect the players have for Pruitt and the coaching staff.
This respect is exemplified in Jace McDonald, a senior linebacker and running back for the Red Devils. He said that Pruitt’s impact on the team and the players has been incredible.
“A big thing Coach Pruitt is on is character,” McDonald said. “He always talks about how you act outside of football and how you act when a coach is not around or when an adult is not around is super important.”
Pruitt’s impact on his players has not only been on the field but off it as well.
“After my sophomore year, I was ready to give up football,” said senior wide receiver and defensive back Javon Brown. “Coach Pruitt really helped me and said why give up football when there’s better things in the end.”
Brown, who has played football for Williston all four years of his high school career, said that after a 1-8 season in 2021, he didn’t think he wanted to come back to the game. However, Pruitt convinced him to return, which has paid dividends for both Brown and the team as a whole.
Some of Pruitt’s biggest keys in his coaching regimen are mental toughness and working hard. He said that the coaching staff works the players extremely hard every day to get them ready for the Friday night lights.
Starting in the summer, the team has four practices a week that last about four to five hours per day. Pruitt said that he has been very proud of the effort and consistency his team has shown since day one.
“These kids have been extremely faithful and dedicated to coming and working hard every day,” he said. “Very rarely can you get on them for their effort, and I’ve probably been the most proud of that.”
Ira Warren Jr., a senior defensive tackle for the Red Devils, said that Pruitt has brought so much to the table to help the team succeed.
“All summer long, all spring long, all year long, Coach Pruitt has preached mental toughness and being able to stay within ourselves throughout each game,” Warren said.
Warren talked about how Pruitt harps on the little things. He said it doesn’t matter what the circumstance is; whether it is being late to practice or wearing the wrong color shoes, Pruitt is adamant on always doing the little things to perfection.
This attention to detail is something that Blake Fugate, the public address announcer for Williston, has noticed. He said that in preaching about how important the little things are, Pruitt has improved the player’s lives on and off the field.
“Behavior is better, morale is better at the school, which in my mind probably means grades are better,” Fugate said. “The whole community is behind the football team and everybody is excited every Friday night.”
After a second consecutive 10-0 regular season after five straight sub-.500 years, the Red Devils are ready to make a push for the state championship. Williston earned the first seed in its region, which grants them a first-round bye in the playoffs. The “Big Red” will begin their quest for a ring on Nov. 17 against the winner of Pahokee and Dixie County.