CLEARWATER — As Leonard Conley sat in the football stadium stands earlier this fall at Tarpon Springs High, just feet from where he became a local legend two decades ago, he couldn't hold his emotions inside any longer.
He had to stand up.
He had to cheer.
And in the middle of a tight game, he did both.
But what made the moment unique was that Conley was rooting for a member of the other team, archrival Countryside High.
"I was cheering for my son," Conley said.
In the mid 1980s, Conley was arguably the biggest star on a Tarpon Springs team that reached the 1986 Class 4A state championship game, where it lost a tough 14-6 battle with Fort Lauderdale Dillard.
Now 41, he's your typical football dad.
And his son, Countryside running back Brenton Conley, has provided the elder Conley with plenty of cheering material. On a Cougars team that plays nationally ranked Plant High tonight in the third round of the Class 5A state playoffs, Brenton is one of the squad's brightest stars.
"He has been terrific for us," Countryside coach John Davis said. "He's our big-play guy."
To say the least.
Conley, a senior, ranks second on the team with 706 rushing yards, but he averages an uncommonly high 11.2 yards per carry, far and away the best on the squad. One of his rushes this season went for 68 yards. Another was good for 65.
"Brenton has top-end speed," Davis said.
The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Conley also has excelled as a defensive back.
"In one game this year, he made what might be the hardest hit I've ever seen," Davis said.
As Conley has made his mark and gained greater notoriety with each game, people have begun to ask, "Are you related to Leonard Conley?"
"I get that a lot," Brenton Conley said.
Tiffany Felder, Brenton's mother, also is soaking up every minute of her son's success. Felder began dating Leonard Conley while both were in high school (she attended Clearwater High), but she admittedly wasn't all that into football back then. Today, she attends every Countryside game with her husband, Gene, who is Brenton's stepfather.
"I think Brenton has some of the skills his father had," Felder said. "It's kind of neat."
Leonard Conley and Felder split up when Brenton was only 6 or 7. The elder Conley, who after a stellar career at the University of Miami was then playing in the Arena Football League, said he tried to remain an important person in Brenton's life, but admitted that wasn't always easy.
"It wasn't that we drifted apart," he said. "I was away a lot playing football. And when he was playing, I was gone. But when I came home, I spent as much time as possible with him."
Leonard Conley, who last played in 2001, lives in Tarpon Springs, works in construction and does his best to catch all of Brenton's games.
"Everybody gets along," Felder said. "There's no strife. No division."
Leonard Conley also sees similarities between himself and his son. Like Brenton, he also is 5-foot-8. And in high school, he weighed almost exactly what Brenton does.
On the field, he was quick and elusive … just like his son is today.
"He's a great player," Leonard Conley said. "It really shocked me to see how fast he is. I think he can definitely play (in college). He's got a lot of talent."
In the Oct. 15 game against Tarpon Springs, Brenton was particularly sharp, rushing for 48 yards, catching one pass for 38 more and scoring on a 5-yard run, which provided the go-ahead points in a 21-10 Countryside win.
To reach the end zone was one thing. To win was another.
To do both on the very field where his father once shined?
"That," Brenton said, "felt great."