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TARPON SPRINGS — Jack Louis Pappas never missed many of his son’s football games. Wherever the Tarpon Springs Spongers played, Pappas was there in the stands.
Now 80, Pappas again finds himself in a football stadium, rooting for a namesake. This time, it’s grandson Louis Nicholas Pappas.
“It just blows my mind because there’s not many people who can say that, you know,” Jack Louis Pappas said in his hearty baritone. “He seems to love the game. A lot of boys play football that don’t love the game. He plays football and likes it and that’s the difference.”
The 17-year-old quarterback is a third generation Spongers football player.
Grandfather Jack was the first Tarpon athlete to earn a scholarship to college. He played fullback from 1948-49. His freshman and sophomore years he dropped out of school to work at the family’s famed Pappas Riverside Restaurant while his older brothers fought in World War II. Jack Louis Pappas played four years at the University of Florida and as a tackle earned all-SEC honors in 1951.
Louis Jack Pappas, 51, was also a Tarpon football standout, playing linebacker from 1975-78. He, too, earned a football scholarship to Florida, playing tackle three seasons before blowing out a knee.
Is there pressure for the youngest Pappas, who by Greek tradition has his father’s first name because he is the second son (first son is named after the grandfather)?
“I don’t really think about it,” the junior quarterback said. “A lot of kids are there playing because of family. My father steps back and lets me play. I don’t have pressure to do well.”
Before each game, Louis Jack Pappas tells his son the same the thing. “He tells me to play smart, play for the next play, and to enjoy it,” he said.
Thus far, he has taken his father’s advice.
Pappas leads Pinellas County and is fourth in the Tampa Bay area in passing with 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns. A win Friday over Wiregrass Ranch (3-3, 2-0) would give the Spongers (3-4, 2-0) the Class 4A, District 6 championship.
“I’m pretty pleased with his development and growth as a quarterback,” Tarpon first-year coach Atif Austin said. “There are some things he still needs to work on but he’s learning a new system, a new head coach and I think he’s doing a great job.”
Austin said one of Pappas’ strengths is his on-the-field demeanor.
“He’s very calm in the pocket and has great pocket awareness,” Austin said. “He has that confidence about being a quarterback. But part of being a quarterback is you have to grow with each opportunity you have to get on the field. You have to take advantage of it and he’s doing that.”
Though he has been playing under center since he was about 8, Pappas still prays before, after, and during his time on the field. Between plays, in the huddle and before he says hike, “I pray to my guardian angel; it calms me down. God is a big part of it.”
So is focusing on the moment, instead of past miscues.
“I have to have the shortest memory in the world,” said Pappas who cringes when his five interceptions are mentioned. “If you don’t, you are good for nothing. The very next play, I try to do something positive to make up for a mistake.”
The walls of the Pappas family’s business office at the Sponge Docks are littered with pictures from the family’s high school and college playing days. And there’s room for a few of the current quarterback.
But there’s no pressure for Louis Nicholas Pappas to play collegiately or attend Florida.
“I had my experience in sports but I never push (my children) to play anything,” Louis Jack Pappas said. “A lot of people live vicariously through their kids. I don’t. I lived it. It’s his rodeo.
“I’m here to support him emotionally. It seems like he’s got his heart in it.”
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.