By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 31, 2001
Luke Ewalt faced a choice entering his junior season at Jacksonville.
He could go through another season sitting on the bench behind quarterbacks Scott Brickley and Gary Cooper. Or he could turn in his pads and helmet and help instruct the quarterbacks.
He went with choice No. 2.
Ewalt, a former standout at Sickles High in Tampa, will serve as a student assistant helping out quarterbacks coach Matt Elliott, a switch that turns his goals from making it as a player to establishing himself as a coach.
"Two years ago I knew that I wanted to get into coaching. The coaches here knew that,too," Ewalt said. "I could have either played another two years and maybe played my senior year or I could get a head start on everybody else. I felt like this was the best decision for me to make at this time in my life.
"This is nothing but a good situation for me here. It's a chance to stay around football. That's something a lot of players don't get to do."
Ewalt is responsible for helping Elliott conduct drills and arranging all the offensive films. When Elliott, who teaches at nearby Jackson High, can't get to the morning workouts, Ewalt runs the quarterback portion of the practice.
"I've had a little more responsibility this training camp," he said.
Ewalt first got the idea to get into coaching two years ago when he began working with the Sickles team during spring practice. He returned this past spring to work with the Gryphons offense, and when Jacksonville coach Steve Gilbert offered him the opportunity to move into coaching this fall, he jumped at it.
"Maybe I coach here for two years and then find out I don't like it," Ewalt said. "Then I always have a degree in communications to fall back on. But right now, I'm looking toward the future to try to make some contacts to get a job when I get out of here."
Ewalt said he would like to stay within the college ranks but has not ruled out coaching high school when he graduates.
He's going to get a good taste of what coaching is all about as Jacksonville hopes to be a competitive team during its first year in the Pioneer League. The quarterbacks will play a key role.
Cooper missed half of last season with a shoulder injury but still managed to throw for 686 yards and five touchdowns. Brickley threw for 1,294 yards and four touchdowns, averaging more than 161 yards.
Jacksonville is celebrating its first homegrown senior class, returning 20 seniors to a team that finished 3-8. Two of those seniors, Jon Underhill and Brent Alexander, have played all 29 games in school history and combined to rush for almost 800 yards last season.
The defensive line will be another strength. It returns all four starters along with four backups who logged considerable playing time last year.
"We're definitely looking forward to this year," Ewalt said. "We've got our "Valley Guys,' the guys who started the program from the first practice and spent that first year practicing in what we call the Valley."