SEFFNER — Evan Davis patrols the sideline, studying the opposition’s every move.
This is what the first-year Armwood High football coach always envisioned. He bided his time, passing up coaching openings elsewhere to have the opportunity to lead his alma mater and its loaded lineup of Division I-A caliber players to a state title game.
That vision becomes a reality tonight. The Hawks (14-0), under Davis, are playing in the Class 6A championship game, their ninth title-game appearance in the past 15 seasons.
About the only thing Davis could not have foreseen was being in charge this season.
This was supposed to be the farewell tour for Sean Callahan, who built the program into a powerhouse. Callahan was set to retire from coaching and teaching at the end of the year.
The timetable was accelerated when Callahan abruptly stepped down after the Hawks’ spring game in May, citing health concerns.
Callahan still is on the sidelines on Friday nights. Only now, he is a bystander, standing away from the school’s sizable coaching staff near the end zone with his wife, Loretta. He watches a talented team built to win state title, one he wanted to coach one more season.
"I miss it," Callahan said. "I miss it terribly. But I had to look out for myself and my health. I’m getting better, and I might get back into coaching one day. But I know the program is in good hands and that’s what matters."
Groomed for the position for years, Davis did not know he would get the job after Callahan departed. After all, there was a new athletic director. Ultimately, the school’s administrators decided to promote Davis.
In choosing Davis, Armwood ensured continuity, to the approval of players and the community.
Often, when a coaching icon leaves the aura diminishes, leaving the program at risk of decline.
The new coach has to meet impossible standards left by his predecessor.
This is what Davis was up against.
He was handed a team that had few holes, if any. The Hawks were predicted to make a deep run in the playoffs, to be nationally ranked. Anything less would be considered a disappointment.
"Sure, I knew there would be pressure," Davis said. "I wanted to win just like everyone else. That was my expectation, too. But I never really felt that pressure."
Callahan’s objective in recommending Davis was to avoid interrupting the success.
Davis also was an Armwood guy. He played for the Hawks from 1999-2003 and was on the school’s first state championship team. Davis returned 11 years ago as an assistant coach and had been offensive coordinator for seven seasons.
"(Callahan) is the only head coach I’ve ever known at the high school level, as player and assistant" Davis said. "It’s part of the reason I came back to coach here and part of the reason I stayed for so long. I’ve learned so much from him and wanted to continue to keep the team up to the same standards that he had whenever I got the chance to take over."
Armwood Inc. still is thriving. The coaching staff has remained largely intact with 12 of the 14 assistants staying on with Davis.
There have only been subtle changes, such as the way practices are scheduled. Those tweaks helped Davis transform from doting assistant to a leader.
The role changes at the top may have changed, but the on-field results have not. The Hawks are undefeated, nationally ranked and playing for a state championship.
Tonight, Davis will pace the sideline on high school football’s biggest stage.
Callahan will be just a few yards away.
Davis made sure he got a sideline pass for his mentor.
They both hope to be holding a state championship trophy.
"To win, and to do it the year when coach (Callahan) is set to retire, that would be the proverbial cherry on top of the whole season," Davis said.