SEFFNER — It seems like forever since Sean Callahan took over the Armwood football program.
Back in 1990, the school was just 6 years old and humbly trying to compete with teams in the eastern part of the county, let alone all of Hillsborough or the state. They plodded along and by 2000, the Hawks were making a name for themselves.
"A lot has changed since then," Callahan said.
Indeed it has. Armwood ripped off back-to-back state titles in 2003 and 2004, then narrowly lost in the 2005 final to Nease, whose quarterback was future Heisman Trophy winner and Florida Gator Tim Tebow.
Surely the Hawks are due for an "off" season at some point.
"We have a high sense of urgency around here to get things done," Callahan said. "The level of expectation has been getting higher and higher each year and this year is no exception."
Talk around local football circles heading into this year is Armwood's extremely talented team — a squad that is perhaps better than either of the state championship teams.
Asked about those comparisons, Callahan, normally self assured but guarded about his team's potential, didn't hesitate. "Talent-wise, we have as much as any team I've had," Callahan said.
That's bad news for Hillsborough County teams — or any team in the state, for that matter.
Practice starts Aug. 11, with the first three days in shirts and shorts. After that, it's full speed ahead in pads until the Hawks open the season Sept. 5 against Plant, a rivalry intense enough that the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
"The kids are handling (the national exposure) well," Callahan said. "They're excited, but they I think understand that they have to do the work to make success happen."
And getting this year's version of the Hawks, a supremely talented group, to focus on the present and not the past is Callahan's toughest job.
"The biggest thing for the kids is to remain humble," Callahan said. "There is no entitlement here. It has to be earned."
Armwood, which has compiled a state-best 65-6 record during the past five years, will rely heavily on its senior leadership to prevent any sense of entitlement.
At the front of that line will be hard-hitting linebacker Petey Smith, a Division I recruit who has trimmed 20 pounds off his frame heading into this season.
"When you talk about ability, toughness and character, Petey is the consummate guy," Callahan said. "We've had some kids here who hit hard, but Petey is right up there."
Defensive end Ryne Giddens and quarterback Mywan Jackson are also garnering offers from big-time college programs. Jackson will be a visible key to the Hawks' success, leading an offense that will be more spread- than run-oriented.
"Mywan makes great decisions with the ball, and I think that's his strong suit," Callahan said. "Realistically, he should be the best we've had here."
With all that talent, it isn't hard to envision the Hawks returning to the state championship in December.
Callahan, who spoke of being humble, and his players need to look no further than their current surroundings to remember the past.
With renovations encompassing most of the school, including the weight room, the Hawks have spent the summer lifting outside under the scalding sun.
"The kids have dealt with it well," Callahan said. "They're ready to stop lifting and start playing football."