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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.
Determined to see Blake succeed, coach Sean Washington believes his team is close.
By JOEY KNIGHT, Times Staff Writer
Published September 28, 2007
TAMPA - During a 45-minute conversation in his cramped, sparsely decorated office, Blake coach Sean Washington employs the David vs. Goliath reference at least three times.
"We're going to take our rocks, take my slingshot and we're going to take chances, man," the Yellow Jackets' third-year coach said regarding Saturday's showdown with rival Middleton. "We've got to really take chances right now because we have nothing to lose."
Overused biblical vernacular aside, Washington's words possess a genuine overtone.
So much, it seems, has been lost already: the Jackets' first four games, a handful of players to rival schools, even Washington's beloved stepdad. The pain, presumably, can get no worse. What could it hurt, then, to lose the conservative approach as well?
It's a rhetorical question, but it's also the Jackets' game plan for the contest at Raymond James Stadium. Blake, perhaps the best 0-4 team in Central Florida, is going to fly around. Washington guarantees it.
Another assurance: The former journeyman assistant, 7-17 as Jackets coach, plans to finish the rebuilding job at Blake, regardless of its physical and mental toll.
"I want to stay here. I love it," said the 41-year-old Miami native, who still hasn't bought the prescription for the high blood pressure with which doctors recently diagnosed him.
"My goal is, before I leave here, I want the Blake Yellow Jackets to be on top, and I want to dish out everything that's been dished to me. ... And I am. You can put that down. I am going to dish it out."
Contrary to what the team's record indicates, Washington's day of retribution may not be far away. The decisive play in the season opener, a 9-8 loss to Jesuit, was a Tigers safety.
In a 14-7 loss to Plant City, the Jackets entered the fourth quarter with a 7-0 lead. Alonso topped the Jackets 20-7, but the score was tied at 7 entering the fourth quarter. In last week's 28-0 loss to Chamberlain, the score was 7-0 at the half.
The combined record of those four opponents: 11-5.
"We're close," Washington said.
His administration believes it.
"Yes, we are committed to Coach Washington," athletic director Steve Williams said. "We think he's an outstanding football coach. He's had some difficulties with some things, but we think we're knocking at the door. All of these ball games have been close."
But painful, nonetheless. Washington copes with the sting by remembering the valiant battle his stepdad, Hardie Denson, waged against cancer before succumbing to the disease in June.
"I was in my mother's room and I was looking at him, and he tossed and turned without saying a word," Washington recalled.
"He never cried, never complained. No explanations, no excuses - and I'm going to take that with me the rest of my life. I can't cry and I can't complain, and that's the same thing I'm taking to my kids."
And he'll incorporate some pass plays to accompany that resilience. After leaning heavily on the wing-T and senior tailback Willie Hopps (416 rushing yards) so far, Washington says it's time to utilize his rangy playmakers on the flank.
Caution, not to mention a few figurative rocks, are being thrown to the wind.
"It's going to take a win for everybody to start seeing what we see," Washington said. "We know we're there, we've done come a long way."