Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Strawberry Crest follows a winning model

LB/DE Alex Carswell wants to help the Chargers to their first postseason in his senior year.


LB/DE Alex Carswell wants to help the Chargers to their first postseason in his senior year.


John Kelly remembers the days before Armwood was a powerhouse. • The Hawks spent 12 years as a growing program east of Tampa before they finally made their first playoff appearance in 1996, with Kelly on the roster. Seven years later, Kelly was on the coaching staff when Armwood broke through with its first state title.

"I still look back fondly on that and feel like I was one of the ones that helped establish that program," Kelly said.

A few years later and 4 miles east, Kelly is trying to do the same as the head coach at Strawberry Crest.

His Chargers (5-2, 2-0) sit atop Class 7A, District 8 heading into tonight's pivotal matchup with East Bay (5-2, 1-0). A victory over the Indians would secure the best record in Strawberry Crest's five-year history and help the Chargers take another step toward their first playoff appearance — and maybe even the district championship.

"It'd mean the world to me," senior linebacker/defensive end Alex Carswell said. "I feel like we're gonna be that team that breaks through."

Strawberry Crest's climb hasn't been easy.

Kelly arrived in 2012 as the program's third coach in four seasons. The Chargers finished 1-9 on the field the previous year, including a 69-6 season-opening loss to Plant City and an 80-0 shellacking by Armwood.

"It was mentally draining, especially with everybody in the area talking about how you're not good and how you're never gonna be good and how you're gonna lose on Friday nights," junior Austin Carswell said. "We just had to play through it anyway."

The Chargers improved to 4-6 last fall and beat Plant City, but have had more issues to play through this year. They opened the season 1-2 and lost their 2,100-yard passer when starting quarterback Tristan Hyde sustained a season-ending knee injury against Tallahassee Leon.

With fewer than 40 varsity players on its roster, Strawberry Crest moved one of its top athletes — Austin Carswell — from defensive back to starting quarterback and filled his spot in the secondary with freshmen.

The 6-foot-1 Carswell has performed well in his new role. In four games as the starter, he has completed 54 percent of his passes for 493 yards while passing for seven touchdowns and rushing for another. More importantly, his Chargers have their first four-game win streak in school history since the soft-spoken Carswell became the team's leader in the huddle.

"It's a lot more responsibility," said his older brother, Alex. "He feels more comfortable now than when he first started."

Defense and intensity have been the other keys to Strawberry Crest's newfound success.

The Chargers are allowing only 14 points per game behind senior Matt Chaney, one of the county's leaders in tackles (87), and Division I recruit Alex Carswell, who has switched his focus from receiver (five touchdowns last year) to pass rusher (six tackles for a loss).

Players quickly credit their coaches for changing their mentalities. Instead of worrying about the big picture or winning immediately, they're focused on the next play.

Kelly said he has some big plays for his young program — eventually. A field house. District titles. A state championship trophy.

But he also preaches the value of a slow ascent, like what he experienced at Armwood. And his players are finally seeing his vision without being blinded by the thoughts of their first playoff game.

"I know we're 2-0 in the district, but right now we haven't really done anything," Austin Carswell said. "This is just the beginning."

Matt Baker can be reached at or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

Strawberry Crest follows a winning model 10/17/13 [Last modified: Thursday, October 17, 2013 11:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. LSU advances to College World Series finals, awaits Florida or TCU


    OMAHA, Neb. — Caleb Gilbert held No. 1 national seed Oregon State to two hits in 71/3 innings, Michael Papierski homered from both sides of the plate and LSU beat the Beavers 6-1 on Saturday to reach the College World Series finals.

    Beau Jordan celebrates after hitting a home run during a victory over Oregon State, LSU’s second straight win over the No. 1 national seed.
  2. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. Rays journal: Jumbo Diaz falters after getting within a strike of ending rally

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday's game got away starting with a leadoff walk in the seventh inning by Rays LHP Jose Alvarado, who was brought in exclusively to face Baltimore's lefty-swinging Seth Smith.

    Rays reliever Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Orioles score four during the seventh inning to give them a 7-3 lead. Diaz was one strike away from working out of the jam before he allowed a two-run double and a two-run homer on back-to-back pitches.
  4. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  5. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    It was refreshing to see RHP Jacob Faria take the blame after the loss even though he gave the Rays a chance to win. Too often young pitchers are encouraged by what they did and not necessarily the outcome, but Faria, making just his fourth big-league start, came to the Trop to win, didn't, and pointed the finger …