SEMINOLE — You can measure the success of an Osceola High football season by the length of coach Cody Montgomery’s beard.
Montgomery begins each season clean-shaven and lets his facial hair grow “until after we play our last game,” he says.
The more games, the longer the beard.
Montgomery’s brown beard is currently as long as it’s ever been, at least 3 inches off the bottom of his chin. That’s because the Warriors (7-3) are competing in the Class 3M playoffs, starting Friday at East Bay (9-1).
Looking at his coach, Osceola quarterback Owen Hinote says he doesn’t want to think ahead, but he doesn’t want to see Montgomery next week with a smooth chin.
“It would be nice to see that beard down to his chest before this is all over,” Hinote said. “That beard is a symbol. A symbol for what we’re doing.”
It’s also an indicator of how Montgomery operates, making sure his players get the daily reminders, the daily sayings — “Win the Day,” One Team and One Tribe,” “Do Your Job” — hung around the locker room and weight room that they repeat while they work.
“You learn the lessons in the hard work,” said Montgomery, who is big on maximum effort in the weight room. “I tell them you have to push through your limits and then go farther. That’s where you find change.”
It’s why Montgomery, 35, always wanted to be a head coach: to teach kids the values he learned from coaches as a player at St. Pete High (graduated 2005) and Mars Hill University, and as an assistant at Chiefland, Southeast, Braden River and Lakewood Ranch.
It’s how he has turned the Warriors from a team that won only two games each year from 2016 through 2020 into a district champion in 2022, giving the school its first district football title in 28 years.
“Working with Coach Montgomery has been a life-changing experience,” Osceola senior free safety Elmmanual Brooks said. “I would say everybody here has changed. The whole school has changed in a way. The crowds are bigger, the spirit is much higher.”
The Osceola student section — “The Tribe” — has overflowed from its marked-off section into a great portion of the stands, which have been filled for weeks at both home and away games.
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The students exploded Oct. 28 at Largo, when Osceola pulled off a 17-13 victory to seal the elusive district title.
The victory served as another testament to the Warriors’ grit, because they did it after season-ending injuries to four offensive starters — three linemen and running back Ivan Brown, who last year rushed for 679 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Enter junior Nathan Carter, who this year has rushed for 1,221 yards and 10 touchdowns on 177 carries behind a new line that included Avery Tuttle moving from linebacker to tight end and Brian Rodriguez from defensive lineman to right tackle.
On defense, Brooks and linebacker Brogan Coleman have been a picture of consistency, averaging 11.9 and 11.1 tackles per game, respectively, while leading a unit that allows an average of just 12.3 points.
Wednesday, Montgomery said all of this is well and good before reciting one of his many mantras:
“Be where your feet are.”
It means to stay in the present, he said. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Focus on the task at hand. Make this moment the most important one.
Then, he pulled on his beard.
He isn’t ready for scissors or shears any time soon.