CLEARWATER - For years, Clearwater Central Catholic’s football facilities showed their age.
The stadium field turned to brown, unplayable slop whenever it rained. The dented lockers came off their hinges. The offices were cramped.
This was not a place fit for a program that had made the playoffs 13 of the past 16 seasons and had two former players currently in the NFL, Riley Cooper (Philadelphia Eagles) and Colin McCarthy (Tennessee Titans).
The facilities were in need of a facelift. To pay for it, Marauders coach John Davis went on fundraising missions and persuaded booster club parents to pledge their support.
The efforts helped generate $70,000 worth of upgrades, including a new artificial playing surface, scoreboard, refurbished pro-style lockers and a refinished floor.
“I knew we were going to need to make improvements,” Davis said. “It’s still a work in progress. But the stadium and locker room are among the best in the county.”
The off-field upgrades are nothing compared to the improvements the team has made on the field.
CCC has its best chance in years to defeat arch-rival Berkeley Prep and assert itself at the top of the Class 2A, District 5 standings.
On paper, things have lined up nicely for the Marauders. Not only do they have a lot of experience returning on defense and at the skill positions, but they are catching some of their rivals at a time when they are rebuilding after losing key stars to graduation. Berkeley Prep, for example, has to replace Nelson Agholor, a five-star recruit who is now playing at Southern California.
“Traditionally, we have some good teams here,” Davis said. “I have three pictures hanging up on my office wall. One is from my first team in 1994. The others are from the school’s 10-win teams in 2000 and 2005.
High school football has taken the concept of tradition and bludgeoned it. These days tradition is two winning seasons and having a catchy nickname for your defense. The new tradition gets you five minutes on television some Friday night, then you lose and you’re gone from the public eye.
At CCC, tradition is real, but a bit decayed. The Marauders have not won a district title since 2005, and during a three-year stretch from 2008-10 they failed to make the playoffs, ending a county record of 12 straight appearances.
Davis started the initial streak, making the playoffs six straight seasons before leaving to coach at Countryside. Mike Jalazo continued the streak for six more seasons (2002-07) before missing the playoffs his final two.
When Davis was brought back in 2010, it was a move that smacked of grasping at the past. But Davis understood that tradition isn’t a weepy recollection of past glory.
In Davis’ second stint as CCC coach, the Marauders have wriggled back to life. They were a surprise 7-3 in 2010 and a solid 8-2 in the regular season last year, including a near upset of Class 8A region finalist East Lake in the season opener and a victory over 8A playoff-bound Palm Harbor University.
But the biggest win came against rival Tampa Catholic, which secured CCC’s first playoff appearance in three years. The Marauders lost in the first round to Fort Meade, but were able to take solace in knowing they had a future together.
The talent at CCC has returned to elite status with defensive back Mike Stevenson picking up several offers from Division-I colleges this spring. Others like running back/defensive back Eric Davis, defensive lineman Jordan Adderley and linebackers Caanan Brown and Ethan Thompson are receiving interest. The Marauders also picked up Kyle Brittain, a transfer from Osceola who was immediately penciled into the lineup as a linebacker and receiver.
Yes, tradition is alive again, but Davis warns that it can only get you so far.
“We look good on paper, but we have to prove it in games,” Davis said. “Nobody is just going to hand us anything. We have to go out and earn it.”
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org