TBO Prep Sports Armwood
Colleges find a place for Armwood players
SEFFNER - It's an impressive streak, no matter what high school football program you're talking about: For the past four years, every senior starter on Armwood's roster has been placed in college, from Division III to Division I-A. "How many teams can say that?" Hawks coach Sean Callahan said. "If they want to go to college, we've placed them. We're on a roll." The offer to play at the next level might take an Armwood player somewhere far away and way off the beaten path. Not everyone can get there and academic eligibility has been a hurdle some have not been able to clear. But Callahan and his staff have created the opportunity to earn a college education by playing football for anyone who can earn a starting spot on the roster. The same will likely hold for this year's group of seniors. In fact, many of the Hawks who line up as starters in Saturday's Class 6A state title game against Miami Central have multiple scholarship offers or have already made a verbal commitment to a school.But the college offers just didn't fall at their feet because they play for Armwood. Here, like so many other things in this hard-working, blue-collar community, you have to earn it. "You have to be able to work hard and you have to be able to compete here," Callahan said. "If they do that, take care of business in the classroom and are good young men, we'll take care of them and make sure they get a chance to earn a college education." Sounds simple, but it's not. After all, this is a program that since 2000 has won two state crowns, has made five appearances in the state finals, won eight regional titles and nine district championships. You just don't show up to Armwood and wait for the scholarship offers to roll in. Just ask Hawks senior linebacker Keionne Baines. Athletically gifted, Baines assumed he would jump right into a starter's role. But shortly after arriving at Armwood last spring, Baines was booted from the squad. Callahan says Baines wasn't turning up to practice regularly, wasn't finishing workouts and had a poor attitude. So Callahan "packed him up" and told Baines' father it would be best to take him back to his former school. Baines was in shock. And most of it was over the workload at Armwood. "When I came here, I thought practice was going to be easy," Baines said. "I mean, they were so good, I thought everything came easy for them. "Then I saw how hard they really practiced and I said to myself, 'Whoa, it's going to be a long year.' Honestly, the days I missed at practice were usually because I was so tired from the previous day's practice." Between the scolding he got from his dad and the fear of walking the hallways of school wondering what could have been, Baines changed his ways. He asked for another shot and Callahan agreed. But even then, Baines said it was a big adjustment, including the fact summer workouts were mandatory. "I just wasn't used to training all summer long," said Baines, who leads the Hawks in tackles (148). "I mean, I was used to training hard a few days, then chilling out a few days. Here, you're either in the weight room or doing conditioning all summer." Hawks defensive coordinator Matt Thompson says working the demanding regimen at Armwood is a trust issue. Everyone, he says, has to be working as hard as the player next to him. If not, come game night, a player can't be sure if his teammate will be in the right place, the right gap, at the right time. "We play as a single unit and you have to have trust in your teammates," Thompson said. "Let's say for instance we're facing an option team. If I'm the safety, I know the quarterback is going to be accounted for so I just need to cover my responsibilities." Of course, it hasn't always been this way at Armwood, even with Callahan at the helm. But somewhere during the mid-1990s, a Hawks team with players like running back John Ordway, quarterback Joey Gerena and offensive lineman Mike Pearson decided to transform Armwood into a perennial powerhouse. With his dad being a truck driver and his mom a school teacher, Pearson said he knew what hard work is all about. "I think the tone has always been set by coach Callahan but we had a core group that year that was willing to work hard and say, 'Why not us?' " said Pearson, who went on to play for Florida and in the NFL. "I really think it stems from the type of kids we've always had here at Armwood. Most anyone here knows what it's like to work hard because they see it every day from their parents."