TARPON SPRINGS — Somewhere among a collection of refurbished furniture and nautical relics, Tarpon Springs High School coach Ron Hawn spotted a rusty anchor while searching through a Palm Harbor antique store one midsummer day.
Hawn had been thinking about different trophy ideas for the Spongers' preseason football game against nearby Anclote. The anchor would look perfect mounted on a wooden pedestal with the scores of each meeting carved onto a face plate.
"It's about 30 pounds," Hawn said. "It looks like how you would envision an anchor to look. It's almost cartoonish in its appearance, but it's real."
Just 5 miles of road separate Tarpon Springs and Anclote high schools.
"As the crow flies, it's probably only 2," Hawn said.
Naturally, the teams want to play each other to establish local dominance, despite being in different counties. Hawn and Anclote coach Matt Wicks have agreed to make the game an annual matchup. Both schools house roughly the same student population, so there is hope they'll be paired in the same district. But if not, they'll try to schedule a non-district regular-season game. And if that's impossible, there's always the preseason.
"Pasco and Zephyrhills have the 9-Mile War, I think we're like the 3-Mile War," Wicks said. "We're real close to each other, so we wanted to foster that rivalry. It's just natural. We're a newer school, and we don't have many traditions."
The coaches are calling the game "The Battle for Anclote River."
"We want Anclote to be a rival," Hawn said.
The anchor, now gray after Hawn had it sandblasted, will be presented annually to the winner. Tarpon Springs is technically the current trophy-holder courtesy of a pair of victories in 2013: 28-3 in the preseason classic and 31-0 in a regional quarterfinal playoff game. Both of those scores have been added to the trophy, which will make its debut tonight.
"Anclote has never beat us my years in high school, and hopefully we can carry out that tradition for a while," Tarpon Springs senior Vasili Makryllos said. "I feel like when we play Anclote, we have to kind of push ourselves more so they don't get their hopes up and think they can start beating us."
Anclote will be looking for revenge following last year's defeats. The Sharks were district champions and playoff qualifiers for the first time since the school began varsity football in 2009, but were outplayed by the Spongers in the postseason.
"There's definitely a grudge there," Anclote junior Denver Eldredge said. "We have to look past last year because it's in the past. We got beat. We want to show them that we're not going to be the same team; we're going to be ready this time. We're definitely going to be a better team, a harder team for them to beat."
The Sharks graduated 22 seniors and will be much younger in 2014, but Eldredge doesn't expect any dropoff and says his teammates are focused on making a deeper postseason run.
"I guarantee we're one of the hardest working teams out there," he said. "We may be lacking in size and numbers, but nobody's going to outwork us. The playoffs are what motivate us because we all know how it tastes now."
Last season, Tarpon Springs returned to the postseason for the first time since 2010. Led by Tampa Bay Times' first-team all-Pinellas running back Michael Ford (1,378 yards, 17 TDs, 200 carries), the Spongers again figure to battle favored Lakewood for the district title.
The Spartans knocked the Spongers out of the 2013 postseason with a 31-9 region semifinal victory.
Tarpon Springs is hoping a third straight victory over its newly-crowned rival will be a springboard to a perfect regular season, which begins Aug. 29 against Clearwater. The Spongers are also looking to fill a slot in the school's trophy case.
"A win is a win, no matter whether its preseason or postseason," Makryllos said.