TAMPA — A sweaty Mike Gregory walked away from his first game as the Tampa Catholic head football coach with a bittersweet feeling.
The Tampa Catholic job was his dream job. He had been with the Crusaders for three years as offensive line coach, paying the dues that all assistant coaches pay on their way to that ultimate head-coaching job. Those first jobs usually end up with perennial losers looking for an instant fix.
That’s not the way it is at Tampa Catholic. The Crusaders are coming off an 8-4 season and they finished as district runner-up. They have several players who will be playing on Saturdays in college next year and potentially Sundays in the NFL a few years down the road.
Still, Gregory maintained a game face after the Crusaders lost his first game as a head coach, 30-15, to Madison County on Aug. 30. The Crusaders had 16 penalties, and one of the first things Gregory told his team after the game was that there would be no off day on Labor Day.
Gregory has always wanted to be a coach. Gregory is a University of Central Florida grad and said he knew while he was at the school that he wanted to be a coach. He is taking over for Bob Henriquez, who won 128 games in two stints as the Crusaders coach.
“This is what I have always wanted to do,” Gregory said. “We have a lot of talent on this team and we can turn it around. This is a dream come true. It’s tough to lose, but this is such a great situation and I know we’ll get better.”
Tampa Catholic has plenty of potential Division I talent. There are 16 returning starters, including running back T.J. Harrell, who has received offers from some of the top schools in the country. Offensive lineman Corey Martinez is on everyone’s radar and several others are checking the mail every day to see which schools are interested.
As for Gregory, he knows he finally has a chance to do what he has always wanted to do. The opening day loss was tough, but he was smiling, with sweat rolling down his face, willing to talk as the rain came down at the Tampa Catholic field.
His team may have been undisciplined with so many penalties, but Gregory was still able to put it all in perspective. After all, it was the first step of his dream job.
“I’ve seen uglier games,” he said. “We need discipline, but these are tough kids, and I can’t wait to coach them all year.”