WILDWOOD — McKinley Rolle, who directed the Wildwood Middle High School football team to one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Florida prep history, announced Thursday that he has resigned as the Wildcats’ coach.

Rolle, the Daily Commercial All-Area Coach of the Year in 2017, said he was stepping down after one season with the Wildcats to become linebackers coach at Garden City Community College in Kansas.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to coach college football,” Rolle said. “This was simply an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m proud of what we accomplished in just one season and I’m honored to have been the head coach for an amazing group of young men.

“They bought in and now the program is in much better shape now than it was when I got here and is positioned to enjoy success for years to come.”

Rolle led Wildwood to an undefeated regular season (9-0) and a berth in the Class 1A playoffs in 2017. Prior to Rolle’s arrival, the Wildcats had lost 23 straight games over a span of nearly four years and did not field a team in 2015.

In his resignation letter, submitted to Wildwood Principal Richard Hampton, Rolle thanked Hampton and school administrators for giving him the chance to get the Wildcats back on track. He also thanked the “Wildcat Nation” for supporting his vision.

“Wildwood football is back on the map and I can not wait to watch the results,” Rolle said.

Before taking over at Wildwood, Rolle worked as an assistant coach at Lake Minneola, Umatilla and Ocala Trinity Catholic. He was also head coach at Lecanto from 2011 through the 2013 season and in 2012, Rolle led the Panthers to just their second playoff berth in school history.

Counting his stint at Lecanto, Rolle’s career coaching record is 19-22.

Rolle was named Wildcats coach in February 2017. He replaced Fred Anderson and Darrin Fort, who were co-head coaches for the 2016 season — an 0-10 campaign that followed a decision by school officials to sit out the 2015 season to “regroup and rebuild.”

“I feel great about this opportunity,” Rolle said on Feb. 6, 2017. “Wildwood is a proud school with a tremendous history of turning out great football teams. I’m here to help get Wildwood back to where it used to be on the football field. It wasn’t that long ago when Friday nights in Wildwood were very special.

“There’s no reason that can’t happen again and I will work to make that happen for as long as they will have me at Wildwood.”

Rolle told his players that he was leaving during a meeting Thursday morning. He said they were “sad, but happy for me.”

“It was a tough meeting and a very emotional one,” Rolle said.

Wildwood Athletic Director Ryan Harrison said he and Hampton weren’t entirely surprised by Rolle’s decision. Harrison said Rolle has always talked about his desire to eventually coach at the college level.

Nonetheless, Harrison said Rolle’s decision was a “disappointment.”

“We’re losing a tremendous coach,” Harrison said. “Deep down, I think we all knew that other high schools and colleges were going to come looking for him, especially after the season he led us to in 2017. We wish Coach Rolle the best of luck at Garden City and we thank him for everything he did for Wildwood football.”

Harrison said he plans to sit down with Hampton on Monday and decide how best to keep the football program on track. He did not say if they plan to promote an assistant coach on an interim basis or launch a full-fledged hiring effort to find a new head coach with preseason practice set to begin July 30.

“We’re going to make a move immediately so that our kids don’t miss a beat,” Harrison said. “This isn’t something we’re going to let linger and have a negative impact on our football program. Whoever we decide is going to replace McKinley, he will walk into a weight room next week filled with players working hard to get better.”

Rolle played college football at St. John’s University in New York City and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He earned a master’s degree from Florida State University.

His younger brother, Myron, played college football at FSU and in the NFL with Tennessee and Pittsburgh.

Garden City Community College is considered by many to be one of the top junior-college programs in the country. Countless NFL players began their college careers at Garden City, including Corey Dillon, a four-time Pro Bowl selection with the New England and Cincinnati, and Tyreek Hill, a wide receiver and specialist with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I wasn’t looking to leave Wildwood,” Rolle said. “The opportunity to coach (at Garden City) came up very quickly and the chance to coach, develop and recruit the best players in the country was very appealing. We don’t get many opportunities in life so when they happen, it’s crucial we are prepared and ready to go.

“My time at Wildwood prepared me for this opportunity and I hope to make everyone proud as I embark on this journey.”