Verduga brings pedigree and past success to Lake Weir softball
Paul Verduga, the new coach of the Lake Weir girls softball team, on the field before their game against West Port at West Port High School in Ocala on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
Paul Verduga grew up in Weehawken, New Jersey, and played multiple sports during his youth and high school years at Hackensack High School.
He graduated from Hackensack in 1997 and started coaching softball and baseball in 2001, while working in law enforcement. The journey to coaching was a case of good timing as a colleague was looking for an assistant coach at the Hackensack Recreation Center.
“I went and knocked on his door and asked if I could help. It ended up being beneficial for me because I learned from him. I became assistant head coach and I’ve been rocking and rolling ever since,” Verduga said.
Verduga’s list of accomplishments in New Jersey include Hackensack Club Team Championship 12 and under travel ball in 2014, 2013 tournament champions for Monroe County and 2015 Lincoln Park County Champions in softball.
In 2018, Verduga and his family moved to Ocala. His daughter played softball at West Port High School before she earned a scholarship to attend and play at St. Thomas University in Miami. Verduga was an assistant coach at West Port from 2018-2022.
Parenting and coaching have similarities that allow coaches to apply what they have learned from raising kids into their coaching style. Verduga said his coaching style is considered old-school but can be effective if used correctly.
“I give all my kids tough love and anybody that knows me will tell you that I am firm but fair. When those girls get out on the field, it’s a job they have to do. I want them to have fun doing it, but they also have to understand that we abide by certain rules and regulations,” Verduga said.
Verduga was hired to be new head coach of Lake Weir softball in August 2022 and got to work immediately. He and his team participated in slow-pitch season in August and September, then followed that up by playing in the fall season during October and November.
Despite what he considered a successful fall season, Verduga said buy-in from the players did not come immediately and had to be earned over time.
“Everybody is skeptical and weary at first because they don’t know what to expect. Once you start showing these kids that you’re about them and this program, everything changes. If you give them 100%, they are going to give it right back,” Verduga said.
Verduga has multiple goals in mind for his first season in charge of the program and will have his work cut out for him as the team has won a combined eight times in the past three seasons.
“The most important thing is for the kids to buy into the program. The second most important thing is to make sure that every single person trusts each other to turn it around and become a successful softball team,” he said.
He continued: “Everybody has to jump at the same time, and everybody needs to understand that they need to work for each other and with each other, and that’s what I’m trying to instill in this program. I’m trying to make us a force to be reckoned with.”
He said family is important to him and he wants his program to be as tight knit as his family by spending time with each other off the field.
“I’m family oriented and I end up treating my kids like they are my own. I am a big believer in we do everything together. We have gone bowling, skating and had our own Christmas party. I try to have the parents included as well. I just want everyone to succeed, and any program can be successful if everybody is willing to buy-in,” Verduga said.