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MARCO ISLAND — The new Marco Island Academy has decided to add football to its sports programs, and it will have a big name heading the coaching staff.
Mike Vanderjagt, former record-setting NFL place-kicker, is the coach.
“I’ve wanted to get into coaching for a couple of years now,” Vanderjagt said. “I talked to Lely (High) and a few other schools, but nothing materialized. Now I can stay on the island and coach, it is the best of both worlds.
Vanderjagt, 41, will coordinate the entire program as it develops at rhe new high school. His career field goal accuracy was 86.5 percent.
“There has been a lot of interest and it seems like there is no time like the present to start football as we grow with other sports programs,” said Roger Raymond, the school’s first athletic director.
The CFL’s Toronto Argonauts signed him in 1996, with Vanderjagt being a key in the team winning two straight Grey Cups. In those two championship games he made all nine of his field goal attempts. For his 1996 efforts he was named the game’s most valuable Canadian. He also led the CFL in yardage per punt in 1997.
He played nine seasons in the NFL, for the Indianapolis Colts from 1998-2005 and with the Dallas Cowboys in 2006. He was released in the latter portion of the 2006 season.
He is best known for his stupendous field-goal kicking effort that actually took parts of three seasons. While with the Colts he made good on four field goals at the end of the 2002 season, then went a perfect 37-for-37 in 2003, until his streak ended in the 2004. Few were chippies, with the longest being 51 yards.
Jane Watt, the school’s chairwoman, is thrilled to have Vanderjagt.
“Can you believe, it?,” she said. “I am so excited that he wants to work with the kids. We are so lucky to have this amazing professional to share his knowledge and talents. Most kids only dream of meeting a professional football player, and to actually be coached by one is amazing.”
Chris Pellant, school principal joins in the enthusiasm.
“I’m really excited about coach Vanderjagt as our head football coach,” he said. “His background as a professional football player adds instant credibility to the program. No one becomes the most accurate kicker in NFL history without having an incredible work ethic and passion for the sport. More importantly, however, is his ability to work well with kids and to be a positive role model for them.”
Vanderjagt owns and operates Vandy’s 5 Brothers Restaurant on the island. He also resides on Marco with wife Janalyn and son Jay.
He has worked with young kids on the island in football, basketball and soccer.
“I like working with that age group,” he said. “I like their innocence of them for one. I want to have a program that includes a lot of fun. Basically, coaching at this age is like an artist’s version of a blank canvass. You can kind of mold them to be a good player because they have no preconceived notions in general about sports.”
Vanderjagt has already talked to possible coaching assistants, all from Marco, he said.
Also on his side is Tony Dungy, former NFL championship coach, who Vanderjagt was under at Indianapolis.
“I plan on taking my staff up to Tampa for a chalk-talk with him,” Vanderjagt said. “He is on my speed dial.”
The school will start out with freshman and sophomore students. Will that be difficult to recruit players who now go to Lely, St. John Neumann, or other off-island schools?
All those involved with the school think that Vanderjagt can have an immediate impact on attracting additional students. Like some of those schools, it can enroll students from all over the county.
“I can tell those who are considering coming here that I will make them into a good football player,” Vanderjagt said. “As for scholarships, Peyton Manning went to a small high school. As we grow we can provide as good an opportunity as anywhere in Southwest Florida.”