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Sean Callahan returns to the football sidelines at Lakewood High

The former Armwood head coach cracks the whip when it comes to organization, and the Spartans are among the hottest teams in Tampa Bay this season.
When former Armwood coaching legend Sean Callahan talks, coaches and players listen. Yes, Callahan is back on the field, with his periodic loud vocals, but this time he is helping as an assistant for Lakewood. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]
Published Sep. 19
Updated Sep. 19

ST. PETERSBURG ― Lakewood High coach Cory Moore would not give up.

He wanted former Armwood coach Sean Callahan to join his staff, but he was having a hard time convincing him to come out of football retirement. Since resigning prior to the 2017 season, Callahan has been away from coaching. He spent 27 years at Armwood and compiled a 233-105 record with two state championships.

He was happy being retired and living in Tampa while he rehabbed a beach house in Sand Key.

But Moore kept asking.

Finally, Callahan was talked into coming to a preseason practice. It didn’t go well.

“The first time I came here to watch practice it was so bad, there was no way I was coming here," Callahan said. “I said, ‘Listen, Cory, I don’t want to put you in a bind here, but I missed the whole summer and then I’m going to come here and tell you how to do things?’ At practice, kids weren’t running, weren’t working hard.

“But he said, ‘I really need you.’ So I came.”

Sean Callahan brings a veteran presence to the Spartans and helps "keep the kids accountable." [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

Callahan runs the special teams and oversees the coaching staff. Think of him as a quality control coach, making sure practice schedules are followed down to the minute and drills are run properly.

RELATED: Armwood football coach Sean Callahan resigns

“Really, I just came here to be a consultant," Callahan said. “Run the practices and help the coaches as much as I can.

“(Moore) needed help here. He needed organization and someone to keep the kids accountable."

Four games into the season, it’s hard to imagine things going any better. Not only are the Spartans 4-0, they haven’t given up a single point. They have outscored opponents 166-0. Lakewood hasn’t been 4-0 to start a season since 2012.

The Spartans play five of the next six games at home. Braden River this Friday and two-time Class A state champion Madison County next week will test the win and scoreless streak.

While the Spartans were expected to be good this season, they weren’t expected to be this good. The addition of Callahan seems to have brought a new focus.

Lakewood junior Cortez Mckenzie and the Spartans have applied constant pressure all season. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

“He’s made a big difference," senior defensive end Tre’von Riggins said. “We’ve accepted him into the family. He’s a winning coach and knows what it takes. He brings that special vibe to our team. When you bring in a guy who has won so much you can’t deny it. He has the recipe and we want to know the recipe."

The recipe so far has been to build a swarming defense that gives the ball back to the offense as quickly as possible. The Spartans have recovered eight fumbles and have 19 sacks. Junior Cortez McKenzie, a Miami commit, has six sacks to lead the team. Seniors Andarius “Tank" Wilson and Riggins each have three sacks.

“That front line is no joke," said Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford, whose team lost 40-0 to Lakewood in the second week.

RELATED: Football: Lakewood 35, Boca Ciega 0

Wilson said Callahan has been a big help, but he also figured this year’s defense was going to be good regardless.

“We all work together as brothers," he said. “We’re family. We didn’t think we were going to be good, we knew."

For Callahan, it’s almost as if he has come full circle. He started his coaching career in 1983 at Boca Ciega. He was an assistant under current Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia.

Junior Artez Hooker and Lakewood haven't allowed a point all season. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

That season, Callahan taught at Eisenhower Middle School in Tampa, then raced to Gulfport to get to practice.

“I would drive 100 mph to get there," he said.

The next year, Garcia left for Gaither and Callahan became an assistant at the newly opened Armwood. Callahan would eventually become the Hawks’ head coach in 1990 and turned the program around. He won state titles in 2003 and 2004.

Now he is back in Pinellas County. Not one to stay idle, Callahan, 61, got a part-time job as a starter and ranger at Belleair Country Club near his house. He gets off at 3 p.m. and makes it to Lakewood in time for 4:15 practices.

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Garcia, who is still at Hillsborough and is Tampa Bay’s all-time winningest coach with 259 wins and counting, said he isn’t surprised to see his friend back in coaching.

“Not surprised at all," Garcia said. “He loves the high school level. Cory is a good guy and I think that’s good for Sean. Football is very labor intensive, even at the high school level. When you can add a coach the caliber of Sean Callahan, it’s got to help."

It clearly has. Lakewood has never won a state championship (no Pinellas County team has). Winning one this year is a long shot as well. That’s not why Callahan got back into coaching.

“I miss the camaraderie," he said. “The kids, the coaches. All that. A high school coach doesn’t make much money so that’s the fun stuff. I miss just being here. It’s more the Monday through Thursday and figuring things out."

Whatever it is, Moore is just glad he didn’t give up.

“We’ve been friends for a while," Moore said. “I prayed that the Lord give me some help and he gave me some help. He’s been awesome."

Contact Rodney Page at rpage@tampabay.com. Follow @RodneyHomeTeam.

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