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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Somewhere between an injury to his best running back and a loss to Largo a few days later, Dunedin coach Mark Everett lost a football team last season.
He looked everywhere for it. In the weight room. On the field Friday nights. Behind the fridge.
It took a whole year. Finally, last Friday against Seminole, he may have found it.
This time, Everett will make sure he doesn't lose it again.
Dunedin is 1-0, which isn't news, but 2-0 sure would be. Last year, the Falcons pounded Palm Harbor University 35-0, found out running back Tim Benjamin was out for the year with a knee injury, lost 44-42 to Largo the next week, then didn't win again until November.
So you'll have to pardon Everett for not getting too excited about beating Seminole.
"Believe me, we've been reminding the kids all week about last year," Everett said. "Sometimes I have to stop myself, because you know what? Most of these kids weren't even here last year."
Which is probably a good thing. Last year's team, for all of its talent and the mercurial playmaking of quarterback Theo Wilson, had trouble finding the weightroom in the offseason, but no trouble finding newspaper clippings declaring its impending greatness.
Even if those clippings were a year old.
Of the 33 kids on this year's roster, 31 made it to their mandatory summer workouts. Everett and his staff went out of their way to pick some of the players up and drive them there. Last year, the coaching staff relied on the players, coming off an 8-3 season and a playoff loss to Armwood, to make it to the weightroom.
About 10 showed up.
When Dunedin football - for three years considered one of Pinellas County's very best - hit the wall, the Falcons were not strong enough or committed to break through it.
"We just fell apart," offensive lineman Adam Lewis said.
It either sounds worse than it was, or was worse than it sounds. The Falcons were blown off the field just twice, but lost by a point to Dixie Hollins, two points to Countryside and eight to Clearwater, all playoff teams.
"We tried to keep it positive," Everett said. "I'd tell them, "You know we've lost two games by only four points.' Then it was three games by six points. Then it was, if not for three plays, we'd be in the playoffs. But after awhile ... "
As one of four returning linemen, Lewis remembers it well. So, yeah, he knows better than most that the victory over Seminole last week was nice and all, but, as of today, means nothing.
Everett made sure of that. In film sessions this week, Dunedin has seen a side of itself it hardly knew existed after such a convincing victory.
"After they walked out of there, I'm not even sure if they knew we had won or lost that game," Everett said. "It was a bit of an eye opener."
"When you watch the tape, you're never as good as you thought you were," fullback Dexter Nelson said.
Great? Far from it. Better than expected? You bet.
Despite Seminole's six turnovers, five of which led to scores, Nelson had two scores, quarterback Worthy Jackson proved he could run the offense, the offensive line proved it would be a strength this year and the defense stood tall against a Warhawks offense that looked unstoppable.
Almost enough to make the Falcon players think, you know, just maybe ...
Just don't let Nelson hear you.
"It's time to put that away," he said. "Yeah, it's a big lift. We feel good. You get looked at differently after you win. But last year was a wake-up call. This was just one game."
Everett thinks this could be a good team. He said the Falcons are still much closer to the playoff teams of 2002 and 2003 than the teams from the disastrous decade of the '90s.
"This team isn't as talented as last year's, but they remind me of the 2002 team," Everett said. "People took us lightly that year, and we came out of nowhere."
Nowhere, though, is always right around the corner from somewhere. The key is just knowing how to get back there.
"This year," Lewis said, "we're going to earn our respect."