The 19 members of the Knights youth football team celebrate after winning the Tampa Bay Extreme Spring Football championship.
TARPON SPRINGS – The 19 players on the Knights Tampa Bay Extreme Spring Football team had never played together. Not all together, at least.
Most had played with a teammate or two on other teams, in Pee Wee or Pop Warner leagues, but not all 19. In fact, they’d only practiced together two or three times before the five-week season began on March 14. But it was plenty of time for Coach Jim Gleason to lead his team to a championship in the first year for the Tampa Bay Extreme Spring Football league.
On April 26, the first game of the single-elimination tournament, the Knights shut out the Packers 35-0. The next morning, they beat the Jaguars 26-12. That afternoon, in just their eighth game as a team, the Knights became Tampa Bay Extreme Spring Football champions with a 26-6 win over the Chiefs.
“We peaked during the tournament,” Gleason said. “We played better than we’d played all spring.”
The spring football season was less formal than fall leagues (Gleason also coaches Pop Warner football in Palm Harbor). The 13- and 14-year-old boys, who came from Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor and East Lake, only practiced once a week. Their jerseys, emblazoned with “Knights” on the front, featured nicknames across their backs instead of a last name: Magic Mike and Glowstick and Megatron. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t playing to win.
Tre Loveless, who played running back and nose guard for the Knights, began playing flag football and has steadily worked is way up through the leagues, both in Dallas and in Pinellas County. A fan of “being rough,” Tre said he still doesn’t know how he’s never gotten hurt. With the Knights, he had a new opportunity: playing football with the friends he’d made over the years.
In the fall, when Tre enrolls as a freshman at Palm Harbor University High School, he’ll try out for the junior varsity football team. And his time on the Knights will do nothing but help his chances, he said.
As for wrangling a large group of teenagers, Gleason said he hasn’t had any problems with his athletes. Football, he said, keeps them out of trouble.
“I’m a big proponent of physical activity and football is a great way to stay healthy,” he said. “It’s also so important to create this camaraderie, especially for 13- and 14-year-old boys.”
In the fall, many of these teammates will find themselves on opposite sides of the field, breaking up between Tarpon Springs High School, Palm Harbor University High School and East Lake High School. Gleason said he’s looking forward to good games between the longtime competitors.
“They’re going to get in games and know they’re enemies,” he said, “but they’ll still be friends when the game is over.”
Registration for fall football with the Palm Harbor Panthers, part of the Pop Warner league, is currently open. The season begins August 1. For more information, go online to www.phpanthers.org.