TAMPA — The walls of Dominick Ciao's office are adorned with photos of the many former players he coached at Jesuit who have gone on to play in college and the pros.
The second-year Berkeley Prep coach speaks carefully about his past life leading the Tigers — he made the playoffs 10 times at Jesuit from 1991-2002, including the Class 3A title game in 1992 — not wanting to take away from his current rebuilding job.
But Ciao has Berkeley on the cusp of its first playoff berth since 2004. The scenarios are plentiful and confusing. Bottom line, a win over Frostproof — along with a CCC win over Cardinal Mooney — would place the Bucs (5-3, 1-1 Class 2B, District 6) in the playoffs. Also at stake is CCC's 12-year postseason streak.
"We haven't done anything yet," Ciao said. "Until we do something, we still have a ways to go. I think we're close. I tell our players, we're a few seconds of a play from making a difference. On Friday night, we have 48 minutes."
A Berkeley win and a Cardinal Mooney win would result in a three-way tie for first and a tiebreaker on Monday. Even with a loss — and a CCC win — the Bucs could make the playoffs if they emerge from a three-team second-place tiebreaker.
"You can't really think about all those scenarios because, as Coach says, you can only control yourself," senior lineman Turner Richardson said. "All we can really focus on is winning."
Ciao has his team in position to make the playoffs because his players quickly bought into his system. Not many knew of his success at Jesuit, but he fostered a family atmosphere by bringing in several former players as assistants.
In fact, all but one of his assistants played for him at Jesuit. The one quality Ciao wanted to establish early at Berkeley was a sense of trust, and the first step was hiring people who already had that trust in him and vice versa.
"Those guys know what I feel is important, not just on the field but off the field, how we treat our players and what we demand of them," Ciao said. "It was an easy thing for me because they all knew it already. Every drill is the same. Every play, they've all done it. The expectations are what we demanded of them when they were players."
The inherent relationship between Ciao and his former players is a unique one. Former Jesuit kicker Garrett Rivas, Berkeley's special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach, remembers receiving a call from Ciao when he first got the job at Berkeley during Rivas' senior year at Michigan.
"I told him, 'Well, Coach, if I'm back home, I'll be there for you,' " Rivas said. "I think that was the similar conversation he had with everybody. If there's anything you need, I'm there. It's the bond we all have. He's the same way with us. That's how it's always been."
That bond has transferred to Ciao's current crop of players.
"He tells us that the sacrifices we make for him, he will do for us later on," senior linebacker Keith Bexley said. "As a team I think we're more disciplined. Maybe as a team, we have more understanding on what he's all about and his routine."
A routine that has a resume of not only winning, but loyalty and trust.
"He's a guy I called a couple times a week for four years," Rivas said, "someone I look up to, a best friend. He tells these guys, when you play for me, you have a friend for life. That's 100 percent true."