On the cusp of a milestone

Longtime Northside Christian coach Bob Dare is in reach of win No. 100.

Published September 1, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The Northside Christian players had just scarfed down plates of pasta and meatballs in the school cafeteria when Bob Dare gave his devotional. The words came out directly from his heart.

He read Psalms 103: "My soul praise the lord and do not forget all his benefits."

The members of the audience were football players. They all stared straight ahead. They listened to every word.

Dare talked about all the spiritual benefits he has received in his 19 seasons as the school's coach.

"I've been blessed," he said.

Then the players put their hands on each other's shoulders, black hands and white hands, big hands and small hands, a ring of hands. Barriers did not exist. They clung to each other. Gladly. Hopefully. "1-2-3. Mustangs!"

If football is a team game, then Northside Christian is the ultimate team. The Mustangs play for the glory of God, and, someday, a district title. But when they charge out on the field for tonight's season opener at Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, they'll be playing for something else:

A milestone for their beloved coach.

Dare, a fixture at the school, is going for his 100th win. If he gets it, he'll join Northeast's Jerry Austin, Shorecrest's Phil Hayford and Seminole's Sam Roper as the only current coaches in the county to achieve that mark.

"It's something everyone wants to see him get," said Dare's wife, Beth.

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Dare came to St. Petersburg in 1978 intent on being a youth pastor. He taught bible classes at Northside and became an assistant coach in 1979. A year later, he was the head coach.

"That's probably because I was the only one left on the coaching staff," Dare said.

His turn at the top lasted one season. Dare went back to being an assistant.

"I worked under some pretty good coaches," Dare said. "It wasn't like I was aspiring to be a head coach."

But when the job opened again in 1989, he decided to take it. This time, Dare installed a more wide-open passing attack. It produced immediate results. A year after going 1-9, the Mustangs went 6-5 and won their district.

Since then, the school has seen all sorts of quarterbacks: gritty leaders such as Ron Johnson and Bill Dimitras, brilliant scramblers such as Brian Freese and Justin Klingler and powerful passers such as Kenny Locke and Cory Hess.

Four of those players - Johnson, Locke, Freese and Hess - played in college. Johnson was a two-year starter at Central Florida. Locke broke every passing record at Taylor University. Freese walked on at USF. And Hess played at Villanova and Colorado State.

"I think for being a high school coach (Dare) ran a sophisticated offense," said Locke, who played at Northside from 1989-91. "We patterned it after Miami. It certainly was fun being a quarterback and I don't know if I ever would have had the chance to play in college if it wasn't for that system."

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Through it all, the family has been there. Beth Dare bakes cookies and watches game film. All three sons - Jared, 24, David, 22, and Bobby, 19 - played for their father. Daughter Emily is now a junior at the school.

"We had no idea we'd be doing it this long," Beth said. "The football field has become our second home."

Dare has coached so long he now coaches the sons of former players.

"The great thing is we get to watch all of these kids grow up, from elementary school to high school," Dare said. "That's what makes this job so great."