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East Lake football players get lessons from the gridiron for adulthood

East Lake High senior Logan Williamson’s dream came true Friday when he played fullback and rushed for a touchdown.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

East Lake High senior Logan Williamson’s dream came true Friday when he played fullback and rushed for a touchdown.

EAST LAKE — Logan Williamson talked about the possibility since he started playing football at East Lake High.

An offensive and defensive lineman, Williamson wanted to score a touchdown.

Just once.

Friday night, Williamson, 18, got his chance.

It was Senior Night and the Eagles were knocking on the door for another touchdown in what turned into a 35-7 victory over Dunedin. The 6-foot-2, 265-pound Williamson lined up as the fullback and bulled his way into end zone.

"Coach told me to hold onto the ball and keep running," Williamson said, with a laugh. "I did just that. My teammates told me I almost ran into the goal post."

Williamson and his fellow seniors will cherish memories like that as their high school football days end in the next few weeks.

"You are always going to tell your kids what you did your senior year," Williamson said. "It's not that the other years are not good, but your senior year is what you think about. You go out and have fun, try to break records and have a good year.

"We haven't been 8-2 since 1997 and we have never beaten Tarpon back-to-back and we did this year."

Friday night marks the end of the regular season for East Lake (7-2), which will host Nature Coast High.

The on-the-field accomplishments are important. But just as important, Williamson and the other seniors said, are the things that they will take with them beyond the gridiron.

"I would have been in trouble if I wouldn't have played football," said Robert Johnson, a senior defensive back. "It basically saved my life.

"I was one of those kids who stayed out late and never listened. I only listened to my parents, but never listened to anybody else and I felt like I could do everything. Football made me realize that you can't always do everything."

It's about work ethic for senior receiver Ethan Leak.

"Work hard (and) do what I got to do," Leak said. "(And) to compete in life. I learned that from all my coaches."

The end of high school marks another change for athletes. Many have been playing sports competitively since they were in elementary school. Going to practices and games has been part of their daily life cycle.

Most will not play in college. For many of them, flag football in the local recreation league is the closest they will get again to the high school athletic experience.

Dr. Fayyadh Yusuf, a sports psychologist with the University of South Florida's Athletic Department, said he typically asks athletes a simple question.

"Why is it that they play sports anyway?" Yusuf said. "The more they understand that it's more than football and that there are more qualities there than just playing the sport, the better it is for them.

"Football is not being hit or hitting someone. It's the competition, challenging myself every day, working hard. … Let's take those qualities that you really like and channel them into something else."

East Lake head coach Bob Hudson said players often return to games to see how the team is doing and remember what it was like when they played.

"Just like parents and everyone who cares for them, we are trying to teach them to make good decisions, know that it takes hard work and nothing comes easy," Hudson said. "You have to work for things you care about and what you try to achieve. We want them to be a good person and to overcome obstacles. You will always have stuff come up in life. You have to work through them.'

Williamson said East Lake coaches always made sure he was successful on and off the field, "especially as far as character."

"Once you are on the field, you enhance those things like working hard, never giving up," Williamson said. "Coach (Hudson) preaches that stuff. Once you get off the field, it's going to turn into real life.

"I'm trying to do it over and over and over and build up (the thought of) never quitting and always working hard.

"You eventually do it on and off the field and so hopefully you will have a successful career off the field."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

In their own words

East Lake's seniors reflect on their lives in and out of football. View the audio-slide show.

About the series

This is the 10th in a series called Beyond the gridiron, in which reporter Demorris A. Lee takes a look at East Lake High's football program from different perspectives. This week, the focus is on the team's seniors whose high school playing days are coming to an end.

This week's game

Nature Coast at East Lake, 7:30 Friday night.

Follow the action at tampabay.com/hometeam and watch it on Friday Night Rewind.

East Lake football players get lessons from the gridiron for adulthood 11/10/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 12:20pm]
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