TAMPA — Under a brutal afternoon sun, the girls squared up at the line of scrimmage with bright flags tethered to their waists. "Move to the left," Chamberlain High assistant coach Norm Soash barked at a defender. "You see they are overloading to that side, so you have to adjust." Soash, a man with an easy smile and calves like cantaloupes, coached 40 years of high school football in Hillsborough County before moving on to the flag variety. Across the line and instructing the offense stands head coach Doug Aplin, one of the most decorated basketball players and coaches in county history.
"All we need is 5 yards on that play, that's all," Aplin shouts. "We get 5 and we're good with that one."
So how did two men with a combined 78 years of coaching football and basketball — both of whom retired from their sports and teaching years ago — end up running one of the top flag football programs in the state?
"Norm said he'd do it if I did it, and I said I'd do it if he did it," Aplin said. "And here we are."
Soash, 65, grew up in Michigan but put down roots after coming to play football at the University of Tampa. Soash, who grew up in a family of educators, took a job as an intern at Robinson High and stayed 10 years before transferring to Chamberlain in 1979.
"Both my parents and brothers are teachers, so I knew I always wanted to teach and coach," he said. "I've coached with and taught with some of the best."
At Chamberlain, Soash served as an assistant for 30 years under Billy Turner, the man whose name adorns the Chiefs' field.
"We developed a pretty special bond," Soash said.
His favorite football memory is the 2001 state finalist team that included Brodrick Bunkley (Florida State University and Philadelphia Eagles), Oliver Hoyt (North Carolina State and Dallas Cowboys) and Greg Lee (University of Pittsburgh).
"But there's been so many memories through the years," he said.
Few names carry as much weight on area basketball courts as Doug Aplin, 59. As a prep sharpshooter at Chamberlain from 1970 to 1972, he joined Hillsborough's prestigious 1,000-point club (1,049) long before the three-point line.
"If they had (a three-point line) when he played," Soash said, "Doug would have 1,000 more points than he did."
From Chamberlain, Aplin took his wicked jumper a little north to the University of South Florida. In 1975, he led the Bulls in scoring and steals.
"Doug could shoot from anywhere," Soash said. "He was one of the best I've ever seen."
Aplin then landed back at his alma mater, leading the Chiefs to three final fours and two state title game appearances during an illustrious 31-year basketball career at Chamberlain.
"I mean, I got to play here at Chamberlain and then at USF and then coach my whole career at Chamberlain," Aplin said. "Does it get any better than that?"
The two have always had a connection. Aplin's father, Holland, was the athletic director at Robinson when Soash coached there during the 1970s. Aplin was starring at Chamberlain when Soash coached basketball at Robinson. Soash would help out while Aplin coached at Chamberlain before the pair took over the flag football program in 2006.
"I would have to always tug at (Aplin's) shirt to keep him on the bench," Soash said of their time on the Chamberlain bench. "He was every bit as good a basketball coach as he was a player."
When asked the secret to winning 516 basketball games, Aplin shrugged his shoulders and deferred.
"Good players make coaches look good," he said. "It's a lot easier to win when you have Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the team."
Aplin's Jordan and Pippen in his post-basketball days are Clarice Devine and Andrea Aaron. Aplin called Devine "exceptional," while Soash described her as "fun to watch." Robinson coach Josh Saunders went even further, calling her "the best player in the state."
"I haven't seen every player in Florida," Aplin said. "But I haven't seen any better."
Aaron, who like Devine played youth football with boys, isn't far behind Devine.
"The two of them are tough to stop," Aplin said.
What the player duo did manage to stop was Aplin and Soash from hanging it up for good. Last spring at the team banquet, following a 28-21 loss to Alonso in the state quarterfinal, the players caught wind that Aplin and Soash would finally be retiring. The girls made an impassioned plea for one more run.
"We need them because they know how to make us better," Devine said.
Aplin was taken aback by the outpouring of emotion from the team.
"Even some of the parents stood up and asked us not to go," he said. "They wanted one more shot at it."
Devine said that if Aplin and Soash didn't come back for this season, she wouldn't have either.
"Coach Aplin said he wanted to make me the best player in the state," she said. "If they weren't coming back, I would have quit."
Aplin and Soash have 124 years of age between them and know their coaching careers are winding down. They enjoy fishing — Aplin prefers saltwater while Soash likes freshwater — and both have been married for nearly three decades. Their wives are good friends who like to work out at the gym together. Retirement continues to beckon, but the itch is still there.
"Coaching these girls has been great because they are great to be around," Soash said. "They are out here to have fun and get better. It's pretty refreshing."
Asked if this would finally be their last hurrah, Aplin chose his words carefully.
"I'll never say never to anything," he said.
If this is their last season, it could be a dramatic final act. Chamberlain, ranked fourth in last week's state poll, opens district play Monday against Plant. Wouldn't it be something if the guys with nearly 80 years of combined coaching experience at the highest-profile high school sports won their first state title together — in flag football?
"I know I wouldn't have done this without Doug," Soash said. "He's a great friend and we've had some great experiences. And I think we'll end it together."