Falcons Quarterback Givanni Gonzalez, a junior, throws to a receiver during a drill. The team begins its regular season on the road against Dixie Hollins Aug. 30.
DUNEDN – Distant thunder served notice to the Dunedin High School football team that practice on a steamy afternoon in early August was about to be interrupted – again.
A siren rang, and Coach Denis Gillen told his players to leave the field immediately.
“Aw, coach, can’t we keep going?” a player asked.
Rules are rules. For the second time that afternoon, the Falcons jogged off the field as a storm approached, wondering if they would get a chance to scrimmage.
If anything, the desire to practice in the heat of the day showed a positive attitude, which is in keeping with their new head coach’s philosophy.
“I’m optimistic about the season,” said Gillen, 43, who had been offensive coordinator for the varsity for two years following a one-year stint as junior varsity head coach.
“We do have a lot of talent, but talent alone doesn’t do it,” Gillen said.
He talked about his players making a commitment and staying together as a team – working their tails off.
“Honestly, we are going to put a hard-working, respectable quality team on the field,” he said. “I’m really preaching character, class, integrity, hard work – doing the right thing. I really believe if we learn to do the right thing in every aspect of what we do, that will carry on the field and we can win games.”
The Falcons return 14 seniors and 18 juniors.
“We have a strong junior class. I have two freshmen who are amazing, who are going to start at the varsity level, which is unusual.”
Though he was shocked at first when head Coach Max Smith announced a few months ago that he was leaving Dunedin High after two years at the helm to become a graduate assistant at the University of Toledo, Gillen said he wanted the opportunity to be head coach for years. Principal Reuben Hepburn announced that Gillen had the job in June.
“I’ve worked hard for it for a long time,” Gillen said.
Prior to coming to Dunedin High, Gillen coached from 2001 to 2004 at Fort Pierce Central, where he was an offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He also had coached in Martin County.
He then took a couple of years off from coaching and said he had trouble getting back into the school system when he moved to this area.
“I thought I could live without it, but I soon realized I need to get back into the game. I found my home in Dunedin,” he said.
Gillen had coached in youth leagues from 1989 to 2000.
“That’s something I’m proud of and developed a lot of relationships. I did a lot of positive things for a lot of young kids.”
That’s how he got his start.
“I realized that was my dream. If I wanted to do this as a career, I said I better get my butt in gear,” he said.
Gillen, who lives in Safety Harbor, is married. He has no children, at least at home.
“I have 70 of them,” he said, referring to his players on the field that day.
Besides coaching, he teaches autistic students at Dunedin High, “something that I love.”
Among the players he has high hopes for are his junior quarterback Givanni Gonzalez, who hopes to help his team improve upon their 6-4 record last year.
“I want to bring our team to the playoffs,” said Gonzalez, commenting on his goals. “Get a better record then last year. Work hard. Get my teammates on the same page as me. Go out there and beat every team that shows their face to us,” he said.
Gonzalez has been playing football since he was 6, from Tampa to Dunedin, where he now lives. He hopes to play college football, but doesn’t have any particular school in mind at this time.
The leader of the team, Gillen said, is senior Brenton Allen of Clearwater, a linebacker and fullback.
“We are excited about Brenton at the middle linebacker position, and after that, I have about 20 players I’d like to tell you about,” Gillen said.
“We can take it all the way,” said Allen, who is considered among the top high school prospects in the state.
Kane Taylor of Dunedin, a freshman running back, will get plenty of playing time this year, and he welcomes the responsibility.
“I like running through people,” he said.
The Falcons don’t have any easy teams on its schedule, Gillen said.
“Not one cupcake. Every single team we play is well-coached,” he said.
The Falcons first game is the Fall Classic Aug. 23 at home against Largo. Largo is a special program, Gillen said.
“They (Largo) are where we want to be. They are where we are going to be. Any team we play we have the potential to beat in this league if we do the right thing – if we play our game,” Gillen said.
The Falcons open their regular season at Dixie Hollins Aug. 30.
Gonzalez, Allen and Taylor saying adjusting to a new coach hasn’t been difficult.
“I believe he has what it needs to take this team to the top,” Gonzalez said.
“He’s been around,” Allen said. “He’s not a new coach to me.”