During his free time between classes at Central Florida, Mike Gregory, a caretaker with the goal of going to medical school, volunteered as quarterbacks coach at Orlando University High School.
Gregory, who played football from age 5 through his senior year at River Ridge in New Port Richey, took one year off from the game when he went to college. It didn't take him long to realize that was a huge mistake.
"It was the most painful year of my life," said Gregory, 26, now in his first year as the head football coach at Tampa Catholic. "I was depressed. It was a mess."
It was his time at University that made Gregory realize coaching, not orthopedic surgery, would be his life's work. Mike's father, Michael Gregory, admits that at first he was mildly disappointed by his son's change of heart.
It didn't take long for the elder Gregory, a man who has watched his son lead the Crusaders (10-2) to a state semifinal, to realize the new career path was the right one. The signs had been there all along.
As a child Gregory was a leader, always looking out for others.
"When he was just playing up front with the kids, he was the guy that reminded them of what the rules were," his father said. "He was a rules guy."
When Gregory was just 2 years old, his sister, Camille, was born with hypotonic cerebral palsy. The family was told the little girl, who didn't even have enough muscle to hold her mouth closed, would never walk.
Still, every day after the physical therapist would leave, Mike would continue to play with his little sister, engaging the muscles in her arms and legs. By the time she was 6 Camille could do what the doctors said she wouldn't. She no longer needed a wheelchair to get around.
"She's doing just fine now," the elder Michael Gregory said. "And her big brother is her idol."
It's those caretaking qualities and the influence of the leaders within his family that have helped him develop his coaching style.
While stationed in Nebraska with the Air Force, Mike's father was a linebackers and defensive line coach for a football team on the base. Once Mike was born, he coached his football and baseball teams, including serving as an assistant at River Ridge when Mike quarterbacked the high school team.
Mike's uncle on his mother's side, Vincent Sinagra, is the head football coach at Division III Anna Maria College in Massachusetts, having also coached at Hofstra and Fordham, among others.
Coaching is in his blood. So Gregory hasn't had to look far to find something on which to model his philosophy.
"That's kind of led to my style where I'm going to jump on a guy if they do something wrong," Gregory said, "but later on I'm going to go hug them up and say, 'Hey, I love you.' "
He may be sensitive, but it's Gregory's intensity for the game, for the task at hand, that has gotten the Crusaders this far, quarterback Kyle Ploucher said.
Gregory, who served as an assistant and offensive coordinator for the Crusaders for four years before taking over as head coach, told his team on the first day what was expected. "Brick by brick," he said, "get to that state championship."
The Crusaders, unfazed by the transition, bought in.
"We've got a lot of bricks right now," Ploucher said. "We've got a house. We're getting there."
Gregory would like to say winning a state championship as a first-year head coach would be a dream come true. But Gregory doesn't dream. He sets goals.
Straying from one goal may have led him to an unexpected profession. But there will be no wavering on the one he and his team are pursuing.
"For me it's not unexpected," he said. "It was our goal to be here."