The Easton Park subdivision is a 10-mile drive off I-75 but feels as if it's a world away.
To get there, you have to take the winding Morris Bridge Road through the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve. It would be like a ride in the country if not for the plethora of cars on the two-lane road.
Houses, many on large lots with lots of trees, are scattered along the road among businesses one expects to see along such a roadway — places to board horses or buy local produce.
There are churches along the road, too. Enough of them to notice that it must be an area where many attend worship services. Among them stands — as unexpected as produce stands are expected — a mosque, the Masjid Darus Salaam.
Right next door to the mosque is Cypress Point Community Church, where Melvin Carver Jr., former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back, is an associate pastor. He and his family live in the Easton Park subdivision just east of the church.
Their 3,420-square-foot, five-bedroom house looks out over a pond that spills into Bassett Branch, a tributary of the Hillsborough River.
Melvin fishes for bass in the pond. He and his wife, Caterial, and children, Melody, 14, and D'Andre, 15, see alligators and snakes, bobcats and raccoons, possum, deer and even wild hogs in and around the pond.
Their home has the perfect combination of seclusion and sense of community that the family sought when downsizing in 2007 from a custom-built home in Lithia's Fishhawk Trails.
But, they admit, their move did not exactly fit the definition of downsizing: They left a one-story house for a two-story house and, at 3,420 square feet, it's only about 1,000 square feet smaller than their old home. But, it is downsized in an important way: It has no pool. The family has a screen enclosure just as if they had a pool, but in its place is a large patio — just what Melvin wanted.
"It's a money pit and something I just didn't want to maintain," Melvin said.
But that's just fine with Melody and D'Andre. Now they get to go to the neighborhood community pool and hang out with the many friends they have in the neighborhood.
There were only two houses on the street when Caterial, a Tampa native, was house-hunting 12 years ago.
"I was all over the county looking at houses," she said.
In the end, she said, it was the close-knit community feel of Easton Park that sold her.
Melvin was no longer playing for the Buccaneers (he played from 1982-1985 after being signed as a free agent) or for the Indianapolis Colts (he played there from 1986-1988), but vestiges of his NFL career remain in the bonus room, deemed his "man cave." A framed jersey is the centerpiece on a wall of pictures and other memorabilia.
He and Caterial, who met at a church development convention in 1996, had a litigation copying business in Tampa for 15 years before he became a pastor and she took a job with the city of Tampa in the human resources department.
Now, they're busy raising their children in a place that they love, a hidden-away neighborhood with a community spirit.
Contact Patti Ewald at [email protected]