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Longtime assistant gets chance to revive program

When he received the call from principal Jim Michaels on Wednesday morning, Tim Stevens didn't know whether Michaels was calling to offer him River Ridge's football job or to tell him he had chosen someone else.

Turns out, Stevens had nothing to worry about.

The longtime Land O'Lakes assistant was selected to replace Mike DeGennaro, who resigned in November after six seasons without a winning record, including 0-10 this year.

Stevens, 41, received "glowing recommendations" from Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto and others in the district office, said River Ridge athletic director Jack Homko, who made the decision along with Michaels.

"He's a local guy who's not too far away, he knows about our situation, people have heard about him, and he's got the credentials for the head football position," Homko said.

Stevens oversaw Land O'Lakes' junior varsity program, which lost only four games the past nine seasons. The team went undefeated five times, including the past three years. He spent varsity games in the pressbox, relaying information to assistant Tom Carter.

After 12 seasons, Stevens decided he was ready for more responsibility.

"I was at that point in my life that I was applying for any head job that was open," said Stevens, who applied for the Ridgewood job last fall and considered applying for the Wiregrass opening. "It just so happened that Coach DeGennaro resigned, and every time my experience of playing these guys at the JV level, they have big, athletic kids as ninth and 10th graders, and I think it can be a good situation over there."

The job, which pays a $2,952 supplement for the fall and $1,310 for the spring, attracted about 50 applicants, some as far away as Ontario and California. Seventeen were interviewed, and five were brought back a second time.

J.R. Haworth, who played for Michaels at Hudson in the late 1980s and has experience in coaching and private business; Largo assistant Ralph Young; and former Gulf assistant Mike Smith were among those brought back for second interviews.

"One of the great things I really like about (Stevens), John (Benedetto) attributed a lot of the additional players that came out for Land O'Lakes football to Tim Stevens and getting the young kids to come out that would not have come out previously," Michaels said. "One of the things we're looking for is the enthusiasm and to get some of the kids back involved in our program."

Stevens taught life management at Land O'Lakes. Michaels said he is working with Land O'Lakes principal Ray Bonti and the district office to get Stevens on staff this spring, possibly as a health and physical education teacher.

Stevens' first orders of business will be to find a staff and meet his players. Spring football begins May 1.

Homko most wants to see Stevens rekindle excitement in River Ridge's program. In time, he'd like to see the Royal Knights return to the success they had under Scott Schmitz, who went to the playoffs three times between 1995-98.

"We believe he is the right man for the job," Homko said.