New Suncoast High football coach Mark Leone seeks to emulate Notre Dame

New Suncoast High football coach Mark Leone seeks to emulate Notre Dame

A former Seattle-area high school football coach, Mark Leone, is taking over at Suncoast High with one goal in mind: to be like Notre Dame.

“I think the big thing is just building the program and attract all student-athletes in the Palm Beach County area,” said Leone, who the Chargers announced as their new coach Tuesday. “We want to be the standard like Notre Dame, but bring that process to the high school level where we’re going to have high academic standards. That’s not going to change, and we’re going to have high athletic standards as well.”

Notre Dame is known for holding its student-athletes to a higher standard off the field and in the classroom than most other major college football programs.

Suncoast athletic director Kelli Erianne said there are positives and negatives to having high academic standards for incoming freshmen who want to play at Suncoast, but once it is time to graduate, students are prepared for the next step. Out of the four programs offered at Suncoast — International Baccalaureate, Computer Science, Math, Science and Engineering, and Innovative Interactive Technology — all but the IIT Program require students to maintain a 3.0 GPA. That’s a grade level above the school district’s 2.0 GPA requirement.

The athletes have a GPA requirement to stay within their program at school,” Erianne said. “It’s important for our athletes to stay on top of where they need to be so we can retain. If you want to come to Suncoast, you know what you’re getting into rigor-wise. That’s what we’re looking for in athletes: academic first and athlete second.

With Suncoast ranked as the top magnet school in Florida, according to online reviewer Niche, Leone said he wants the students to capitalize on their free time after school before they step on the field.

“Something that I started doing [at Archbishop Murphy in Seattle] that I can see myself doing at Suncoast was we would start practice about 45 minutes after school so we could allow more tutoring, and allow the kids more time to meet with teachers while they’re still on campus,” he said. “I love Suncoast’s academic standards, and I believe it is helping give all young men and women who attend the tools needed to be successful in college and future employment.

Leone was the Archbishop McCarthy head coach for two seasons, finishing with an 8-3 record and a state quarterfinal appearance in 2019 and going 2-3 in a COVID-shortened 2020 season.

After spending 10 years as a coach at three different schools in Washington, with eight years as an assistant coach, Leone said he was looking for new coaching positions after his wife relocated Florida through her work as a project manager for a hospital. Once he saw Suncoast was looking for a coach, he did not hesitate to apply.

“I spent every single day looking for job opportunities, and I saw one for Suncoast pop up, and I read up a little about the school, read what it was about, and then I called my wife who knows about the area, and she said ‘you better apply to that job right now,’” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be offered the job, and I’m very excited about it.”

Leone was one of over 30 applicants for the job and one of four that went through the interview process, according to Erianne. Leone will be replacing former Chargers head coach Jimmy Clark, who stepped down in May so he could spend more time with his family. Clark had two stints with the Chargers during his coaching career: from 2012-15, and 2019-21 and finished 13-34 in five seasons.

“I’m putting all my effort into and my Advanced Placement classes from here on out,” he said. “Huge Chargers fan still though.

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