Fall football begins: a tale of two championship programs
SEFFNER - If you want to see part of the contrast between the state championship football programs at Armwood and Plant, Monday's first day of fall practice offered a perfect microcosm of their two different worlds. Over in Seffner, the Class 6A champion Hawks were in a struggle with Mother Nature. And she was winning with the ages old killer of football practice: lightning. Armwood coach Sean Callahan did manage to get a few minutes of training in on their practice field adjacent to the stadium, but it had rained so much the field was pretty much a quagmire and eventually, the lightning returned. The players were hustled back to the field house to wait their next orders. To add to Hawks' woes, two tires on their brand new water truck blew out en route to the training field. Coaches had to haul it back to the field house with the two flats -- not easy with it filled with dozens of gallons of water -- and try to start repairs. While defensive coordinator Matt Thompson broke out the tool kit in the training room, quarterbacks coach T.J. Laflamboy got on his phone to call a buddy in the lawnmower business to see if he had replacement tires the right size. That's how they get things done in Seffner.Meanwhile, Callahan was contemplating waiting out the storm, turning on the stadium lights and practicing there. But the chain of command to allow the lights to be powered up at Lyle Flagg Field proved to be too long a journey and, eventually, Callahan called off practice. Even though there's no school this week and they could conceivably practice late, getting the players to and from school is sometimes difficult at Armwood. About 17 miles away inSouth Tampa, Plant was scheduled for a 6 p.m. practice start at Dad's Stadium, which, by the way, features artificial turf. But even though that surface works fine in wet weather, the Panthers were also sent indoors because of lightning. So coach Robert Weiner opted to start training in the field house, walking through some formations on offense and defense. It was pretty cramped but it worked for about 40 minutes. Then, Plant got the all-clear to head outside. It was nearly 7 p.m. and the lightning had ended. And at Plant, they can apparently turn on the stadium lights at this non-peak time of day without school board approval. So out to their new turf field the Panthers went and, despite some steady rain, they proceeded to stage a rousing practice. Even though there is currently 100-plus players on Weiner's varsity roster, players all seemed to have rides home by the end of practice some two hours later. That's how they get things done in Palma Ceia. The two teams offered some interesting contrast Monday but one thing is constant: both coaching staffs find a way to succeed in the long run with the hand that's dealt them. And as easy as it may look for Weiner at Plant, don't forget he's the guy who made it this way. When Weiner first arrived at the school eight years ago, the football program didn't look anything like the juggernaut he eventually built into a four-time champion. It was just coming off a 1-9 season. And when Callahan came to Armwood in 1990, the previous season saw the Hawks go 0-10 and players leaving for other schools. The three state titles, the glitzy field house, the national recognition, all that came after years of sweat by Callahan.