Their friends and family thought they were crazy.
If given the choice, why would anyone want to go to Pinellas Park and play football? After all, from 2004-08 the Patriots won five games total.
But in 2009, Tyree Graves, Garret Nevitt, Jaquan Clark and several other freshmen weren’t scared off by Pinellas Park’s past. They were determined to be part of a bright future.
“Most all our parents wanted us to go to a different school,’’ Clark said. “They were 0-10 the year before. But my dad told me that it would be our class that turned things around. He told me to stick it out and play here. And now look, we’re in the playoffs the last two years.”
The bar has certainly been raised at Pinellas Park.
For the first time, the Patriots (6-4) are in the playoffs consecutive seasons. They play Venice (7-3) on Friday night — the first home playoff game at Pinellas Park since 1997. Graves, Nevitt and Clark were 3 years old then.
Getting to the playoffs wasn’t the goal when Kenny Crawford took over as coach in 2009. He inherited a team that went 0-10 the previous year. All Crawford wanted to do was win some games.
“Our goal the first year was to not have a losing record,” said Crawford, whose team was 5-5 in his first two seasons. “The next year, let’s try to have a winning record. Then let’s try to make the playoffs. Now let’s try to make the playoffs and be competitive. Last year, we were not competitive.’’
Pinellas Park went to Manatee last season and lost 55-2. Starting quarterback Brandon Hames was in a car accident before the game and Graves replaced him.
“We just laugh at that now,’’ Graves said. “Two weeks after that we were getting ready for the spring.’’
The Manatee game is unfortunately indicative of the Patriots’ playoff history. The school is 1-4 all time, with the lone win 3-0 over St. Petersburg in 1997.
The Patriots have never scored more than seven points in a playoff game and have been outscored 139-19. The last playoff touchdown was in 2001, a 28-7 loss to Seminole.
This year, the Patriots are facing a Venice team that has three losses, two to perennial powers Manatee and Naples. This is Venice’s sixth straight trip to the postseason, and it last lost to a Pinellas County team in 2005 (Largo).
The Indians are exactly the kind of team Pinellas Park needs to beat to continue raising the bar.
“I think we’re a really good ‘C’ football team,” Crawford said. “We’re above average. We’re at the point now where we need to beat playoff teams. Last year we lost four times, Largo, Countryside, Palm Harbor and Manatee. Playoff teams. Didn’t beat any of them. We’ve got to raise that bar.”
This year’s losses came against Largo, Countryside, Palm Harbor University and Boca Ciega. Unlike last season, the Patriots have a chance against Venice. The Indians run a speedy option offense and play just enough defense.
“We can cover speed pretty well, but we can’t cover size,’’ Graves said. “Venice has speed. Our defense is small but we’re tough. We do better with speed teams.’’
Pinellas Park’s senior class would love nothing more than to graduate with a playoff win. It would certainly validate their choice to stick with the Patriots.
“It would be the biggest thing ever,” Graves said. “Just that feeling of having all the family and friends and fans that don’t believe in you pick up the paper the next morning and see that you won, that would be the best. And for it to be our class that did it, man …”
Class 7A region quarterfinal
Venice (7-3) at Pinellas Park (6-4)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Scouting report: Quarterback Kale Youtzy and running back Terry Polk are the players to stop for the Indians. The duo has combined for 2,899 yards rushing (1,342 for Youtzy, 1,557 for Polk). Venice runs an option offense, and Youtzy passes only when forced. Last week in a 42-31 loss to undefeated Naples, Youtzy completed 16 of 22 passes for 216 yards. The Indians defense has allowed 23.8 points per game while Pinellas Park has scored 24.4 points per game.
Last playoff appearances: Pinellas Park lost to Manatee 55-2 in the first round last year. Venice lost to Manatee 34-21 in the second round last year.
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.