Samuel Ford kneeled down and picked up the combination lock off the empty locker room floor.
"Look a here," he said in a fatherly voice.
There are consequences for leaving gear on the floor with Largo High School's junior varsity football team. It means running extra after practice.
"It teaches discipline and responsibility," said Ford, 56. "You have to learn to take care of your things."
For the past eight years, Ford has used his stern ways to groom the mostly freshmen and sophomore Packers for the varsity football team. In the past three years, the junior varsity has gone 18-3.
"I mainly stick to the basics, blocking and tackling," Ford said. "You see kids make varsity and see them do well, you do get a swell in your chest. But we stick to the basics."
For the past 34 years, Ford has been doing what he did when he found that lock on the floor: finding ways to teach young football players life lessons that they can take with them beyond the gridiron.
"I'm fair," Ford said. "I tell them what I expect out of them and I expect it. But they are mostly good kids."
Largo High is more than a job for Ford. It's home.
He grew up in the Ridgecrest community and went to the all-black Pinellas High School from seventh to ninth grade.
In 1968, Ford was a member of the first class of blacks to attend Largo High School. He played offensive line all three years, one on JV, two on varsity. He graduated in 1970.
"It was shaky on both sides," Ford said. "Black kids were afraid and the white kids were afraid."
Playing football helped.
"It helped me be a better person," Ford said.
After graduating from Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Ga., in 1974 with an education degree, Ford moved back to Largo and took his first teaching and coaching job at Largo High.
"Largo is my home," said Ford, who teaches health and physical education. "I'm not the kind to be moving."
While he has remained at Largo High, Ford moved to St. Petersburg in 2000 with his wife of 13 years, Lynne. His daughter, Chanda Ford, 23, also graduated from Largo High and now teaches middle school in St. Petersburg.
Though he's applied for the head coaching job several times at Largo High, he's never been picked to lead his alma mater.
"When I think back, I would like to have been a head coach," Ford said. "But I guess that wasn't meant for me."
There's no bitterness for the man whose strong voice exudes caring, even when he's making players run extra wind sprints.
"I like the program, I like the kids," he said. "It would have done me no good to be disgruntled. I would have gone somewhere else and might not have been as happy."
Current Largo principal Jeffrey Haynes was the school's head football coach from 1981-86. Ford was his offensive line coach.
"He did an excellent job for me," Haynes said. "He's a good role model. He grew up here, he's a very active church member."
Ford also managed player eligibility for Haynes, who recalls only one player not being allowed to play because of academics.
When Rick Rodriguez came to Largo in 2000, he needed a junior varsity coach.
"Very few people offered to help me," Rodriguez said.
"I went to Sam and he said he'd be glad to help. Knowing that I have somebody with his expertise to develop talent and the system helps a lot."
A football program is only as good as its junior varsity squad, said Haynes.
"The better programs that win consistently have good players all through its program," Haynes said. "You always have someone coming up and a good JV coach spots and develops that talent."
Ford uses football to teach discipline and responsibility to teenagers, some of them from the very neighborhood he grew up in.
"Most principles go beyond football," he said.
As for the lock that was on the locker room floor:
The player it belonged to was taking out the locker room's trash and had not left.
"No need for extra running," Ford said, again in his fatherly voice. "The student was doing what he was supposed to be doing."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.