Mike Smith started Zephyrhills Christian Academy with his wife in 1997. Throughout its existence, the school has always had football.
At first, ZCA had the flag variety before going to six-man about 10 years ago. In the past decade, the Warriors became a power, going 10-0 and finishing as the No. 1 team in the state in six-man last season.
In the spring, ZCA decided to take the next step, switching to traditional 11-man football and competing in the Florida High School Athletic Association as an independent.
"There has always been a lot of interest among the boys at the school when it comes to football," said Smith, who is the coach and pastor of the church. "We've had small growth over the years, and the goal always was to get to this level eventually where we could field high school teams in multiple sports, not just football."
ZCA's enrollment (kindergarten through 12th) is about 220 students. At the high school level, it is between 90-100. That is not a large base to draw from to field a football team. Still, the Warriors pulled out all the stops, unveiling shiny new uniforms and helmets.
The roster now has 25 players, nearly half coming via transfer from schools in Pasco County and the New Tampa area. Those additions have given the Warriors plenty of talent at the skill positions to assure themselves of at least being competitive in the Sunshine State Conference for independent teams in the area.
For example, the quarterbacks competing for the starting job, Matt Iovine (Wiregrass Ranch) and James Toner (Pasco), both transferred from other schools. The main target in the passing game is Issac Johnson, another former Pasco player.
"I was surprised to have so many kids come here, but we've always had a decent amount of kids play," Smith said. "Even when we were at six-man football, we had about 20 on the roster."
In the spring game, ZCA lost 7-6 to Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic. The Warriors have eight regular-season games this year and are trying to add two more.
"It's kind of amazing the transformation of the school and to watch it grow over the years," Smith said. "It's the same thing with the football program. Hopefully, we just keep getting bigger and better."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.