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For Givins, there's nothing "semi' about it

Football? This time of year?

Ernest Givins could not believe his eyes when he walked into a Pinellas County park one winter day in the mid 1990s.

Players Givins had grown up with in St. Petersburg were practicing for what they said was a semipro team.

"Semipro football?" Givins said, as he told the story. "I never heard of semipro football."

One of the players approached Givins. "There's something I want to run by you," he said.

"Where is your coach?" Givins interrupted.

"That's what we want to run by you," the player said.

The next day Givins agreed to coach the St. Petersburg Sharks. Nine years, six championships and two undefeated seasons later, he continues to coach in the Southern States Football League, a 13-team semipro league comprised of squads from Jacksonville to Miami. After stops in St. Petersburg and Lakeland, the former Houston Oilers All-Pro receiver debuts as coach of the Hernando Eagles on Saturday night at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium in Brooksville.

"St. Pete is my home," Givins said, "but it's time for me to move on, branch out and see if I can do the same things I did in St. Pete in another area."

A high school friendship brought Givins to Hernando County. Givins knew Eagles player/owner Abraham Dowdell from his days at Lakewood High in the early '80s. Dowdell, a four-time SSFL all-star receiver, later played for Givins in St. Petersburg.

After twice turning down Dowdell's offers to coach the Eagles, Givins agreed after the Lakeland team folded. Givins, 39, works as a campus monitor at Baypoint Middle School, where he tries to motivate children with discipline problems. He would like to get into high school or college coaching and sees the SSFL as a springboard.

"I think I have a lot more to give to the kids, especially at the high school level, because I've been to the top and know what it takes to get to the top and can relate to a lot of the kids," Givins said. "I'm not old enough I can't run around and show and tell."

He proves it every day in practice. A player/coach in past seasons, Givins satisfies his urge to play by demonstrating techniques to his athletes, whether they are receivers, quarterbacks or defensive backs. He pushes them hard but is equally quick with a joke.

"The guys look up to him because he has been there and done that, so when he talked the talk he had walked that walk," Dowdell said. "These guys are being coached by somebody who's been in their shoes before and been in the NFL."

Givins takes over a team that includes multiple SSFL all-stars such as Dowdell, defensive backs Chris Woodfaulk, Brian Williams and Al Washington and running back Jerome Tillman; players straight out of high school, such as former Central members Tim Gaynor, Shawn Dunker and John Walters; University of South Florida third-string punter Jason Moran; and former Kansas State defensive lineman Andrew Timmons, who aspires to the NFL.

"I believe in certain areas there's a little more talent there than I had with the St. Pete Sharks," he said. "We've got some good defensive linemen. I think we're more advanced in Hernando. The championship teams I had in St. Pete were very aggressive, very sound but needed a little more speed."

Dowdell hopes Givins' presence will bring a spark to a squad that went 7-15, including a playoff berth, the past two seasons and saw attendance level off at 400-500 last year after drawing about 1,000 to its inaugural game in 2002.

"We haven't touched our league with an experienced head coach, which we're going to do this year," Dowdell said. "We had the team, we just didn't have that final piece of the puzzle _ a head coach these guys can believe in with the know-how."

_ Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastorsptimes.com.

EAGLES AT A GLANCE

Schedule

DATE OPPONENT LOCATION

Saturday GULF COAST GATORS Hernando High

Feb. 7 at Florida Titans Ft. Lauderdale

Feb. 14 CAPE CORAL FEAR Hernando High

Feb. 21 at St. Pete Sharks St. Petersburg

Feb. 28 TAMPA BAY THUNDERBOLTS Hernando High

March 6 ORLANDO RAGE Hernando High

March 13 at Florida Barracudas Tampa

March 27 MAGIC CITY BULLS Hernando High

April 3 at Duval Lions Middleburg

April 10 at Jacksonville Wolfpack Jacksonville

Note: Games start at 7:05 p.m., except March 13 and April 10, which begin at 1 p.m.

Admission: $7 adults, $4 students with ID. Children under 6 with parents, free.

Roster

NAME POS. HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE

Larry Barabas OL NA

Marcus Barnes DE Hernando High

Willie Bates WR Hernando High

Frank Berardi K Central Florida

Jeremiah Blake WR Springstead/PSU

Joel Blunt DL Hernando High

Justin Brown LB/DL NA

Theo Burns C Pasco High

Michael Chapman NA NA

Terrance Clark DE/FB Springstead High

Anthony Crescenzo QB Central High/TIU

Abraham Dowdell WR/QB Lakewood High/SU

Shawn Dunker RB Central High

Brian Gantz OL MU

Tim Gaynor RB Central High

Lauren Golden LB Hernando High

Andrea Green DB Hernando High

Paul Herrmann OL Hernando High

Troy Johnson NA NA

John Jones WR/QB William Patterson

Joe Manor RB Hernando

Willie Mason LB East Bay

Jason Moran P South Florida

John Nigro DL Springstead

Marvis Noorwood WR Hernando

Jason Owens CB Hernando

Henry Quinones DE/LB Millville High

Tony Roberts WR Hernando High/Kansas St.

Ruben Rosario RB Central High

Telly RoundTree FB NA

Stephen Smith OL Marist High

Teddy Southall WR Springstead High

Joel Steele WR Hernando High

Ruo-shon Thomas WR Hernando High

Jerome Tillman RB Tennessee Tech

Andrew Timmons DL Hernando High/Kansas St.

Daylon Toole DL/LB NA

Ross Turnquist CB Lakewood High

Brandon Valenca LB Central High

Jason Waldron NA NA

John Walters NA NA

Al Washington DB Dunnellon High

Brian Williams DB Lakewood High

John Willis FS Hernando High

Chris Woodfaulk DB PRCC

Demetrius Woods LB/S South Florida

Mike Zwierko DL/LB Hudson Valley

_ FRANK PASTOR

Up next:CORRECTION

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