For a group of local high school boys, it's the beginning of a highly anticipated dream. And for the man coaching them, it's the bow on top of a distinguished coaching career.
Seffner Christian held its first-ever fall tackle football practice this week in advance of the school's inaugural season. But for Steve Lewis, this is likely the final stop on a journey that began 26 years ago.
"I've been at this a long time," Lewis said. "Starting a program from scratch was the last thing on my push list, and we're excited to finally get things going."
Lewis' coaching odyssey has taken him up and down the eastern seaboard. The 59-year-old started as a graduate assistant for the University of Richmond (his alma mater) before eventually moving to Hillsborough County in 1992. He spent 15 years in Hillsborough as the head coach at Temple Heights Christian, then moved on to stints at Cambridge Christian and Strawberry Crest.
"We started putting the ball in motion in January of 2008, and it's exciting to see it happening after years of hard work by everyone at this school," Lewis said. "And so far it's been a good journey."
As for the players, playing football has been rumored around school for years. Senior quarterback Bradley Moorer never thought this day would come.
"We'd been hearing about it, but from my understanding it wasn't going to happen until next year," he said. "I was always told it would be in 2012 so to get this chance is pretty exciting."
Moorer, like most of his teammates, has no experience playing tackle football. There are a handful who played junior varsity elsewhere in 2009. Only one player— sophomore defensive tackle Seth Lewis (the youngest of Steve Lewis' five children) — has played at the varsity level before now.
But the majority of the players need instruction on how to properly put on pads.
"Being the first year it's hard to expect anything at this point," Moorer said. "But I think we'll handle ourselves out on the field."
With so much inexperience, Lewis was careful to not overwhelm players in the first-year program. The Crusaders, who will compete as a 1B independent team, should have a shot to win a few games on their nine-game schedule in the inaugural season.
"A third of our games we can definitely win, a third we're about even with the teams and a third are against tougher teams," Lewis said. "But with that all said, our main goal is to get better every day."
Defensively, the Crusaders will be led by senior Cole Reichert, sophomore Aaron Evans and Seth Lewis. The Crusaders will operate out of the double wing on offense, led by Moorer under center. Sophomore running back Tanner Richardson will also swap out at quarterback depending on the formation. Lewis said the double wing was the perfect offense to implement with a fledgling team.
"It's what's called a 'mirror' offense, which means the same plays can be run to either side," Lewis said. "The guys have done a real good job retaining the playbook from the spring game."
The Crusaders lost that spring game 42-26 against Lecanto Seven Rivers Christian, but the anticipation around the school regarding the new team was evident.
"I would say most everyone who goes to the school was out there lined up along the fence to watch," Moorer said. "It was pretty awesome."
Lewis knows there are a number of things "to iron out" before anyone starts confusing Seffner Christian with neighboring Armwood, but he's thrilled to get the ball rolling.
"This team understands they're part of history at this school," Lewis said. "And for me, I just feel so fortunate to be able to continue coaching in Hillsborough County and lay my head in the same bed every night for the past 18 years."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.