On a hot September afternoon, the Providence Christian football team gathered for a word of prayer before engaging in a full-contact scrimmage.
Hitting each other with reckless abandon almost seems contrary to the brotherly love the team expressed in the prayer, yet this is the approach the Knights engage in each day. Afterward, they walk off the field as "brothers." Coaches and players say there's a special closeness because of their devotion to Christ.
"Obviously football is not the most important thing to us," Providence coach David Hubbart said. "But we believe that whatever we do we should do our best in honor of God, not in honor of ourselves. Be it football or whatever, that's our main purpose in life."
Providence has a history of success, winning six state championships in the Florida Christian Conference since their program began in 1974. Although the team believes it could compete with FHSAA schools in Class 1A and 2A, they chose to compete in the FCC because every team holds the same values.
The coaches say football challenges them to grow spiritually and to become more disciplined. The games can be physical, but they never get out of hand. A Providence player has never been thrown out of a game.
The Knights, 5-0 after defeating Landmark Christian of Haines City 10-6 on Friday night, are hoping to win their third consecutive state title. Five teams compete in the FCC's Division I-A: Landmark, Eastland of Orlando, Maranatha of Tallahassee and Ocala Christian. After a 10-game season, the teams with the two best records compete for the state championship Nov. 7.
Hubbart uses a pro-set offense that has averaged 300 yards and 24 points per game. He says the team's favorite slogan is "Never Quit."
"Last year, the team from Heritage Christian outweighed us by 30 to 40 pounds per man, was taller by 3 to 4 inches and had more speed," Hubbart said. "But we still found a way to win."
Defensively, the team runs a 53 defense with the secondary running man-to-man. Opposing teams have averaged only 150 to 200 yards per game and scored no more than six points this season.
"The first practice had me concerned because of the secondary," defensive coach Larry Trimble said. "But the defense has come along real well. They are doing a good job."
Thirty players, including several junior high players, make up the team. About 25 percent of the team are seniors, and each has been named a team captain. Coaches point to the unity these players provide as one reason for the team's success.
"The most challenging aspect of being a captain is knowing what is going on and paying attention the whole game," senior quarterback Jeff Harrison said. "You must help keep the team unified and cooperative."
Starting fullback and linebacker Steve Bates said the team's intensity compensates for its lack of size.
The younger players are used on the special teams unit. Rob Humphries has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns since joining the team last year.