ST. PETERSBURG — It is lively on the field as Lakewood High players wait for practice. Some fling footballs. Others zig-zag in a game of tag.
Amid all the commotion, coach Cory Moore launches into instructions. His baritone brings the cacophony of whoops and hollers to a halt.
"Gather around," he yells.
Players make a beeline for Moore, forming a circle around the coach and extending one hand toward him.
"What are you thankful for today?" Moore asks.
"Family," says one player.
"Life," says another.
It has been two months since Moore, a former star at Lakewood, returned to his alma mater to restore the Spartans legacy.
He took over the program from Otis Dixon, who resigned to go into the insurance business. Moore's task is to get the Spartans back into the playoffs, something they haven't done since 2002. But so far, Moore has made the biggest improvements off the field.
Moore stressed structure, discipline, character and academics when he interviewed for the Lakewood job.
"And he's lived up to those promises since he started," Lakewood athletic director Javon Turner said.
When Moore, 32, arrived in July, he made each of his players bring a notebook. It's their football journal, which they must keep with them at all times.
The journal contains more than X's and O's. There is a word of the day that has to be memorized. "The word is usually one that will be on the FCAT test," Moore said.
As for structure, Moore has his players' lives scheduled for the next three months.
Every opponent has been game-planned, every practice mapped out. Practices last two hours with sprinting between stations.
It is unacceptable to be late for a team meeting or a study hall session. Players do not dare come Moore's way with sagging pants, headphones or hats on backward. Teachers and coaches are to be treated with proper respect. Shirts and ties are required on game days.
Then there are the team goals: 100 hours of combined community service by December and a cumulative team grade-point average of 3.0 (junior varsity and varsity) by the end of the school year.
"Coach has really brought about a sense of urgency," quarterback/defensive back Jacquez Jenkins said. "He wants us to hustle in what we do. And everything is more mental. He really tries to stress to us that there's more to life than football.
"He gets his message across. We fear him. Just look at how big he is."
Moore built himself into a football player. He played fullback with the Spartans from 1991-94 then went to Bethune-Cookman (1994-99). He spent a year with the Minnesota Vikings before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
"Cory is a great kid with a strong work ethic who played at a high level," former Lakewood coach Brian Bruch said this year of Moore. "If anybody can do well, he can."
The past five seasons, Moore worked as an assistant at Daytona Beach Seabreeze, which went undefeated in the regular season and lost in the state semifinals last year.
Moore also spent the past three summers in the NFL/NCAA coaching internship program, working at the University of Miami, Ohio State and Kentucky State.
When the opportunity knocked to coach Lakewood, Moore didn't answer so much as he disengaged the door from the hinges.
"I had offers to coach at the small-college level," Moore said. "But I turned that down because this is where I wanted to be.
"I'm definitely thankful for that."
Bob Putnam can be reached at email@example.com.