Ray DiPompo did not want to give up soccer. His heart made him do it.
In 1997, the former Leto coach had a heart attack and subsequent triple-bypass surgery, forcing him to stop coaching after 16 years of building a dynasty at the school. The Falcons were state runners-up in 1982, state champions in 1983 and 1987, and runners-up again in 1994.
When Alonso opened last year, he couldn't resist getting back into coaching. Actually, he had been sneaking in some coaching on the side, guiding a team of under-11 Westchase recreational league players all the way to the 3-on-3 national finals at Disney's Wide World of Sports, but don't tell DiPompo's doctor.
"No, I didn't have (the heart attack) from a bad official's call," DiPompo joked. "I never really wanted to give it up. The challenge is what I wanted."
Now, he is guiding the second-year Ravens program, and it is already starting to show signs of a champion.
After starting last season 0-3, Alonso fought its way to a 6-9-1 mark, falling to Leto in the district playoffs. Along the way, Alonso knocked off Chamberlain twice, handed Plant its first loss of the season and shocked region semifinalist King as well.
"As young as we were, we surprised a lot of people and earned some respect," he said. "We didn't surprise ourselves, though. What I preach is that if you work hard, good things will happen."
It might seem as if he could draw on his vast knowledge from championships past, but DiPompo said there's no use trying to relive the glory days at Leto.
"That stuff is all ancient history," he said. "Kids are funny. They don't want to hear about the old days. They're all big and bad, now. They know everything. They have that Randy Moss disease."
He adds that while it's generally true of players nowadays, fortunately he has some coachable players such as striker Brian Speropulos, goalkeeper AJ Madero and defender Joey Foxenberger. All three started as freshmen last year and earned their lumps playing against the big boys. Now, with nine sophomore starters back and senior leader Ivan Sarti in the midfield, Alonso is poised to make some noise.
"Last year, not that many, if anyone, was driving a car," DiPompo said. "This year, at least, we're starting to get licenses.
"I don't know about this season. We're still young, but we're not going to sneak up on anyone anymore."
DiPompo is teaching his players a "fear none, respect all" mentality. On the schedule for Alonso this year is first-year Middleton. He is warning his team not to take the Tigers lightly.
"We don't look at that game like it's a W, or they could do to us what we did to others last year," he said.