Nearly all the seniors on Tarpon Springs High football team have been enduring this ritual since they were in grade school.
The sweat of conditioning during hot summer practices.
The start of classes and after-school practice.
The weekly game routine complete with tackles, blocks, touchdowns, injuries, wins and losses.
And the Saturday morning aches and pains after a hard-fought game.
But when they walk along the 50-yard line Friday night for their last regular season game as Spongers, the seniors say they will leave high school football with friends and lessons they can count on beyond the gridiron.
"I really do consider these guys my friends," said Luther Shaw, a senior wide receiver. "Half of them, we've been on the same team since little league football. And it's been up and down for me, but I never quit."
Shaw, 18, is referring to the first game of the 2008 season when he missed a pass while wide open. For the remainder of the season, he played only on special teams.
"I was done for the rest of the season," said Shaw, who bounced back to catch four touchdown passes this season. "But I told myself that I wasn't going to quit and that my time will come."
Special teams member Cameron Menendez, 17, says that he doesn't play that often on game day, but he enjoys coming out to practice. He said it keeps him strong.
"I come every day and try to make myself a better player, and it keeps me in shape," he said. "But I help where I can and contribute when I can. I'm a very determined person and I will stick to it. I can't quit on anything. It's like a self-determination type of thing for me."
George Kotis has been with the program for 24 years, the last four as head coach. He says Tarpon Springs is a high school football town.
But because of the foundation laid by former head coach Nick Hatzie, who led the Spongers in the 1970s, winning has become secondary to building character, Kotis said.
"I just know the quicker that the kids mature and realize how important work ethic is and committing to something you believe in, the farther you will go in life," Kotis said. "Pride, self determination, never giving up, responsibility, all those cliches, we try to reinforce because when a teenager embraces them, they become winners in everything that they do, on and off the field."
In the end, Kotis said, there's more to it than winning.
"We try to get the players to handle adversity in a positive way, not by throwing the helmet," he said. "The main purpose is to develop the man first and the player second. I know it all sounds corny, but that's what we try to do."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174.