Cotey: Going winless? Not this season for one of these teams

Things are looking up at Pinellas Park High School, which was 0-10 last year and opens its football season Friday by hosting Osceola, also 0-10 in 2008.

According to at least one online poll, the Patriots are runaway favorites to win their district.

More than 64 percent of the voters say the Patriots will beat out St. Petersburg and Northeast. Gibbs is even further back.

It's ludicrous, really, but what else would you expect from a fresh Web site built by the fresh new coach of a program in desperate need of a fresh start.

"We're in the lead," Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford said, laughing at the obviousness of it all.

You have to start somewhere.

Any discussion of the 2009 high school football season should probably start at Plant, where the defending state champions take on Tampa Bay Tech on Friday.

Or Armwood, where the Hawks are again poised for another state title.

Or Largo, where the Packers are trying to make it three consecutive trips to the state semifinals.

Or Lakewood or Jefferson or Hillsborough or Pasco or even Nature Coast, where history and high hopes have created visions of state championships that dance in every helmet.

Or anywhere, really, but Pinellas Park, where the funeral for high school football was held many years ago.

And yet, it seems as good a place as any.

After all, the Patriots and Warriors, winless in 2009, will prove Friday night what this — once stripped of high-profile transfers, rankings, polls, recruiting, state titles and the expectation of winning every week — is really all about.

It's about football.

Not pretty football, in every case.

Not gifted athletes at every position.

Just two teams scrambling to fill their rosters, players who have to play on both sides of the ball, scratching and clawing for every yard.

Just football.

And for right now, that's enough for Crawford.

"I think everyone just wants to get started," Crawford said.

You can make all the jokes you want. You can bring a toilet plunger to the game or wear a bag over your head.

But every day of the week and twice on Fridays I'll take two teams desperate to capitalize on a chance that may not come along again this season. And seriously, who wants to lose to an 0-10 team?

"It's huge for us," Pinellas Park senior linebacker Tony Murphy said. "Everyone's talking about it."

Murphy said the game has been hyped for months (remember, we're talking two 0-10 teams). At Osceola's spring game, Murphy said, the Warriors celebrated a victory by gathering at the 50 and calling out the Patriots, who showed up to watch in their jerseys.

Then in the summer, Pinellas Park starting defensive back Greg Green transferred to Osceola, and Osceola starting linebacker Taylor Nevitt transferred to Pinellas Park.

Game on.

"There's a lot of reasons this is a huge game," Murphy said.

Here's a big one: It's Crawford's debut.

He's promising the same thing those before him have: He'll get kids out of the hall, he'll build team pride, he'll field a competitive team.

Always easier said, but it's hard not to root for the guy.

For years, Crawford has been regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in Pinellas County. It was a good gig at Northeast, but he wanted to try running his own program.

So he made a list of schools he could afford to coach.

"Schools that I could afford the gas to drive to," he said.

Some might say it was bad luck that the first one of those schools that had an opening was Pinellas Park, which Crawford volunteers is 5-45 the past five seasons.

His friends told him he was crazy. Warned him about how the Patriots program has a tendency to chew up its coaches and spit them out. The players were tough to deal with, that is, if you could get them eligible. Oh, and don't expect any help from the administration.

As for the talent … well, why rub it in.

"I heard it all," Crawford said.

Then at his first informational meeting, without even the offer of free pizza or cookies, 106 people showed up, and they gave him a standing ovation.

He had expected 13.

"All they really wanted," he said, "was for me to bring the old uniforms back."

The Patriots have dumped years of being beaten black and blue for new red, white and blue uniforms.

Senior wingback Cody Nowakoski said there's a new attitude, a little more intensity, than he has seen in recent years. He wants to see how that plays out on the field.

Ultimately, he said, this isn't about trying to pick up a gimme victory, feasting on the carcass of a team that has lost 15 straight.

It's merely a battle between 0-10 teams, looking to start the new season differently than they ended the last one, trying to prepare for the winds of change both sides crave.

"It's about playing football," he said. "That's all this is."

John C. Cotey can be reached at jcotey@tampabay.com.

Cotey: Going winless? Not this season for one of these teams 08/31/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 2, 2009 1:37am]

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