The final football coaching vacancy in Hernando County has been filled, pending approval from the district office.
Nature Coast has hired Justin Worden, defensive coordinator at Orlando-Oak Ridge, to take the helm of its program, athletic director Kristin Peeples announced Friday.
"We were looking for someone young, energetic, someone who will take this program and turn it into a new direction," Peeples said. "Someone we feel will be around for a while. We felt like he's the guy for the job."
For the 27-year-old Worden - he'll turn 28 prior to spring football - this marks his first time as a head coach.
"I'm excited about it," Worden said. "They have a lot of young kids and I thought it was definitely a place where there would be an opportunity to work with young kids and mold them for a couple of years."
He originally worked on the staff at his alma mater, Titusville-Astronaut, for four seasons, coaching defensive backs and eventually becoming passing game coordinator.
Part of that time span overlapped his college years. He graduated from UCF in 2008.
After that he landed at Oak Ridge, gaining more and more autonomy on the defensive side.
However, he was actually a quarterback/wide receiver during playing days at Astronaut. He opted to pursue coaching rather than accept offers to play collegiately at small schools, following in the footsteps of his father.
Merrill Worden was an assistant coach for over 30 years, with stints at both Titusville High and Astronaut. Justin is not his only son now in the coaching ranks. Kyle Worden is the strength coordinator and coaches outside linebackers at Seffner-Armwood.
Over the past two years Justin began to pursue a head coaching gig. He ended up as one of three finalists at Nature Coast, whittled down from 12.
"We didn't really look at it as someone from the outside versus the inside," Peeples said. "We set criteria as far as what we were looking for as far as qualities of a football coach and he had fit those qualities.
"The expectations going forward are we want to win. But looking at coaching and things of that nature, we want a physical and relentless football team. But we also want kids to have real high expectations in the classroom and on the field.
"Our GPA has gone up the last few years and we hope that continues, and we hope the kids not only learn the game of football but life lessons."
He'll inherit a team coming off its first losing season since 2005. The Sharks went 4-6 in 2013, and were 16-14 the past three years under Charles Liggett.
Liggett, who had been part of the coaching staff since 2004, initially as defensive coordinator, was the fourth different headman in as many seasons from 2008-11.
The Sharks have not advanced to the playoffs the last four seasons, and have slipped behind Springstead and Hernando in the county.
While the volatile relationship between Nature Coast and other county schools has softened from the early days of the magnet school, heated rivalries remain.
Coming from outside the area, Worden will have to wait until next season to experience that firsthand.
"The biggest thing being a magnet school, the community support will be different," Worden said. "I don't think that's the worst thing in the world. It spreads the county out, getting kids from different spots in the county."
Though the Sharks have suffered some instability at the top over the years, the assistant coaching staff has remained remarkably intact.
For the first time in team history, that might change. Neither Worden nor Peeples were sure who would be returning on the staff. Due to a lack of available teaching positions - the school is still working on opening a spot for Worden - there will be some limitations.
While Worden anticipated bringing in a few of his own assistants, he wasn't in favor of a complete overhaul.
"I'll definitely sit down and talk to (the current assistants) and try to keep some of them around," Worden said. "I think it would be beneficial to me and the kids."
Despite his defensive coaching background, as a former offensive player Worden indicated his personal focus would be more on that side of things.
"I'd like to spread it out a little bit, run the ball and take our shots and throw it when we have a chance," Worden said. "Try to keep it simple and get really good at what we do. Defensively, the same thing.
"Astronaut was one of those teams that was in the playoffs every year. That's always been my mentality. . Beat your rivals and try to make the playoffs on a consistent basis would be the long-term goal, and also help kids to get college paid for."