TAMPA — So, what's the magic recipe that has allowed this particular Robinson High School football team to look like it may be the one?
Longtime coach Mike DePue, in his last year and hoping for the grandest send-off one could imagine, is too busy to bother with such a question. Or really, too busy to be jinxed with it. That's okay because there are plenty of other knowledgeable coaches on the Knights' staff who have a handle on what has been so different this year.
"Nothing. We're not doing anything differently," swears Shawn Taylor, one of a handful of Knights' assistants who are also Robinson graduates. "We had the same format this offseason, same goals. First is to win district, then a region title."
It's just that the formula has never translated to a state title for Robinson. And yet, this year, there seems to be an overwhelming sense that the Knights could be destined for the school's first.
The Knights' next test is a Class 5A semifinal contest tonight against visiting Tallahassee Godby. If the Knights advance, they'll play the winner of tonight's other semifinal contest pitting Immokalee at Miami Jackson for the state title. Kickoff for both games is 7:30 p.m.
None of Robinson's longtime coaches says DePue has stressed anything special, or been any more emotional through the year despite knowing it's his last chance.
Until maybe just recently.
"The week of the Plant game, we passed each other in the hall and we joked about something. We laughed, but then, we started to cry," said defensive line coach Tomas Montero, a 1988 Robinson grad. "You can tell what's going on. So all of us want to win it for him."
Montero and Taylor are joined by other former Knights players on staff — longtime assistants Vaughn Volpi, Rob Burns, David Kiranen, Josh Saunders and Gene Blalock.
Having that consistent group of leaders, familiar with and loyal to the program and to each other, has been something DePue constantly points to as a reason for the Knights' recent success.
But as for this year's unprecedented triumphs, Taylor, the captain of the 1999 Knights squad, admits a couple of factors have been very helpful.
"Really I think it's that we have a strong group of seniors, at least one at every position. And with the bracket having us at home for every playoff game, it's played out just how you'd plan it," he said.
"Well, except for losing to Plant, things have played out just how we planned it."
For Taylor and his Knights, a state title would do a pretty nice job of erasing the sting of that defeat.