TAMPA — His wild-oats phase coincided with Woodstock. That graying ponytail? An anti-establishment vestige. Mike DePue, son of an Air Force colonel, also is a child of the ’60s.
But suggest that the planets have aligned for his squad, that something cosmic is working in the Robinson football team’s favor Friday, that the Knights are destined to counter the prevailing prep football culture around here, and DePue suddenly goes conventional.
“I’m not going to go back to the album Hair and the age of Aquarius stuff,” DePue said. “But we hope it’s our time.”
DePue’s cautious optimism notwithstanding, something’s in the crisp November air. The Knights, and the Tampa Catholic Crusaders for that matter, can smell it. Heck, they can almost taste it.
It’s an abstract sensation that the world order, at least in this cubicle of the world, is about to be turned on its end.
The Knights’ and Crusaders’ excruciating stretches of futility against Plant and Jesuit, respectively, seem poised to end — on the same night.
That hasn’t occurred since Nov. 12, 1999.
“The kids have worked since January, the coaches have worked extremely hard, the community has been behind us,” said DePue, whose undefeated team hasn’t topped the Panthers since 2004. “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The proverbial stage has been set. Consider: It’s the 60-year-old DePue’s final regular-season home game. It’s senior night for Robinson. With a win, the Knights can become the first Robinson team in 49 years to go 10-0.
“True, it’s almost that perfect setting,” DePue said. “But now, it comes down to a football game with 16- and 17-year-old boys.”
Across town, Crusaders coach Bob Henriquez oozes the same type of guarded giddiness. For him, the misery has become chronic; Tampa Catholic hasn’t defeated the Tigers since ’99. Henriquez himself has admitted the futility has infiltrated his psyche at times.
But the Crusaders (7-2) are enjoying a resurgent year as the Tigers (6-3) struggle mightily. What’s more, Henriquez was elected Hillsborough County property appraiser Tuesday. A win Friday would cap one of the most blissful weeks of his 48 years.
But the Crusader alum’s words ooze more practicality than planet aligning.
“We tend to press too much vs. these guys just because of the history,” Henriquez said. “And there have been numerous times when we’ve had a chance to win the game, or had a team that was competitive with them, and we tend to push or press to the point we end up making mistakes that cost us.
“But I think we’ve gotten over that. It’s one night a year, and we’ve got to figure out how to play better than them on any given night and we haven’t done that. There’s nothing magical here.”
Alas, reality is likely to prevail over emotion, as it frequently does. Fate will be dictated by what occurs on the fields, not the story lines that preside over them.
There’s also this: The Tigers and Panthers will be pretty geeked up as well.
“There’s no better way to get ready for the playoffs,” Plant coach Robert Weiner said. “For us, the main thing is to get on the bus and get ready for X’s and O’s and playing football. The stuff surrounding it is more on Robinson, which is fine for me.”
At the core of the matter, TC must protect quarterback Kyle Ploucher from Jesuit’s fierce pass rush off the edge, and neutralize a Jesuit ground game capable of chewing up time and yardage.
Similarly, Robinson must contain diminutive Plant dynamo Wesley Bullock, who shredded the Knights for 122 total yards last season, and brandish some resilience if needed. Fact: Robinson has not trailed in a game at any point this season.
“I don’t know if we’ve really faced any real adversity this year,” DePue said. “To see how this team responds to adversity is going to be a measure of the tape of how we can handle the playoffs. To me, that’s the challenge to this team right now.”
The challenge beckons. Adversity, convention and demons are there for the conquering.
Or are they?
“It’ll be a great atmosphere,” Weiner said. “We’re looking forward to playing in a situation like that.”
The last time...
Robinson defeated Plant
Date: Nov. 5, 2004
Winning quarterback: Marcello Trigg
President: George W. Bush
Nation's No. 1 song: My Boo, by Usher and Alicia Keys
Price of a gallon of gas: $2.04
No. 1 at the box office: The Incredibles
Top TV show: American Idol
The last time...
Tampa Catholic defeated Jesuit
Date: Nov. 12, 1999
Winning quarterback: Matt Glavich
President: Bill Clinton
Nation's No. 1 song: Smooth, by Santana featuring Rob Thomas
Price of a gallon of gas: $1.14 (approximately)
No. 1 at the box office: The Bone Collector
Top TV show: Who Wants to be a Millionaire