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By GOOSE LINDSAY
Sometimes a small town has its advantages.
For the Rockwood Tiger baseball program, a winning program was only part of the reason Jake Witter accepted the head coaching position after Joey Cofer resigned after the 2007 TSSAA Class A State Tournament. For Witter, the size of Rockwood's community was the biggest selling point as he and his wife Melissa are starting a family.
"My wife and I had a baby last February and we were looking for a small town to raise our child (Peyton) in," Witter said. "Rockwood turned out to be what we were looking for. The support here from everyone has been amazing."
Witter, however, admits that a program that has played in seven of the last 10 state tournaments didn't hurt and he isn't afraid of the expectations that come with that success.
"The success of the program was also a big draw," Witter said. "And with that success there is a bit of pressure. I know I'm replacing a coach (Cofer) that went 27-9 last season and the coach before him (David Lane) was a legend here. I've got a high quality standard to uphold."
Witter is also impressed with how important athletics is to the Rockwood community.
"Not many schools this size have the facilities they have here," he said. "Athletics would be an afterthought at a school with 400 students where I'm from, but here it's a focus. I'm excited about how well the community supports this program."
While Witter is excited about "Tiger Town", he will have what many people believe is a rebuilding season in 2009 as Rockwood graduated 13 seniors last year and eight of the 13 were starters. Witter, however, believes that could actually be a good thing for him as he starts his coaching career in Tennessee.
"The negative is I'm taking over a team with little or no varsity experience," he said. "The positive is that I got kids that can learn to do things my way. Plus I'll have a lot of young guys that will be hungry."
Witter comes to Rockwood after serving as an assistant coach at Class 6A Apopka High School. Before that he served as head coach at Mount Dora High School. In college, Witter was a pitcher at Lake Sumter Community College for two years before finishing his career at LaGrange College in Ga.
Witter's background as a pitcher plays a major role in his philosophy of winning with pitching and defense.
"I'm a pitching and defense guy. I believe that good pitching will beat good hitting," he said. "There are ways to manufacture runs and I have my philosophy on hitting, but I believe if you play solid defense and your pitching is good then you'll be in the game late."
One major difference in high school baseball in Florida compared to that in Tennessee is the amount of games played. In Florida, Witter says there is very little regulation and teams play almost year round. Witter, however, prefers Tennessee's system because it gives players a chance to work more on an individual basis.
"I'm not a big proponent of playing year round," he said. "If you're always playing you don't have time to practice or you don't practice very hard because you have a game the next day. By not playing year round we can spend more time in the weight room and we can work on individual weaknesses."
While Witter doesn't know how many games the Tigers will win, he does promise Tiger fans that they will see a hard-working club.
"It takes no athletic ability to hustle," Witter said. "I expect our fans to see a disciplined ball club that's hustling all the time. If they're not hustling, they won't be playing."