For Temple Heights, the seeds of success were sown last summer.
Like any other high school coach, Tom Allen instituted a summer football camp and opened up his weight room for all-comers. Unlike the usual Temple Heights teams, players actually showed up. In droves. Right then, Allen knew this would be no ordinary season for the Eagles.
"We had tremendous participation in the weight program, 80 percent, and that was up from almost nothing," Allen said. "That stirred the desire to get things done.
"We came up with the theme "Dare to Believe' over the summer. Their philosophy was they believed they could win."
Those beliefs began to grow with each victory. The hope Temple Heights planted last summer with sweat equity was fertilized with wins. Now it has blossomed into a 7-0 season. The Eagles need only one victory in the next two weeks to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1976.
But a victory tonight over Shorecrest, ranked second in the Class 2A state poll, would be more than just a pretty bloom. It would prove that the Eagles have joined the state's best.
"It would take Temple Heights to the next level in football," quarterback Kit Watson said. "It would make us one of the best teams in the state and give us a lot of respect."
Clearly, there's a lot at stake for the Eagles. But Allen said he knows few are going to pick his team to win against Shorecrest.
The Chargers (7-0) have been a perennial contender for nearly two decades and this appears to be one of their best teams. Behind running back Nathan Hallet (930 yards and 10 touchdowns), quarterback Fred Meinke and fullback Matt Thomas (600 yards combined), Shorecrest has produced some key victories including a 6-0 win over Class 3A Fort Myers Lehigh last week.
"The experience of our backfield has been a big plus," Chargers coach Phil Hayford said. "But we know we will need both our offense and defense clicking on Friday night."
That's because Temple has its own quality backfield. Nate Dorsey, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior has been the leader of the Eagles with 957 yards and 14 touchdowns. Willie Peavy has stepped up to add 625 yards on 81 carries and Watson has kept defenses honest by passing for nearly 400 yards in the last four games.
"The running game opens up the passing," Watson said. "At the beginning of the year, we established the run because we're a very young team.
"Now some teams put eight or nine guys on the line of scrimmage. That's why the running game really helps the passing."
Even with a talented backfield and a tight-knit group of experienced seniors and hungry sophomores, few thought Temple could average 25 points a game on offense or allow only 38 points on defense this season. But with those impressive numbers, the summer vision of making the playoffs has come into focus.
"We had T-shirts printed up with "Dare to Believe, 1994 state playoffs.' At the time it seemed like a lofty goal," Allen said. "Now the team has so much confidence because it's right on the doorstep."
Any doubts? There may have been some before last week's 13-0 shutout against Northside Christian. But now the Eagles believe they can fly, even against No.
"They have a real serious attitude, they know how important the game is," Allen said. "But the pressure is on Shorecrest, not on us. If we play well, we can play with them."