In winning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ high school coach of the year award, Palmetto native Nate Varnadore, the head coach at Inverness Citrus High, was given four Super Bowl tickets.
With ticket prices hovering at more than $3,000 heading into the weekend, getting a chance to see the Big Game is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Varnadore.
But he’s not going alone. His wife Melissia and his brother Seth are making the trip with him.
The fourth ticket?
Never miss a local story.
That was reserved, at first, for his father, but a family emergency is preventing him from attending.
Varnadore made a promise to an area head coach when he won the Bucs’ coach of the year award through a fan vote in early December.
That promise was made to Palmetto High’s Dave Marino, who Varnadore was an assistant with on Raymond Woodie’s staff before becoming Marino’s defensive coordinator in 2009.
Marino, a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan, was told he was going if the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl.
“I’m like, ‘I’m holding you to it,’ ” Marino said.
“Dave’s like family to me and he was so good to me when I was at Palmetto that it was the least I could do for him,” Varnadore added.
It’s the first time either Varnadore or Marino are attending a Super Bowl or visiting Minneapolis.
For Varnadore, he received a $2,000 grant for the football program as one of the Bucs’ coach of the year finalists.
The finalists comprised eight previous coach of the week winners, which included Marino and Bayshore High’s John Biezuns.
In winning the Bucs’ coach of the year award, Varnadore was given an additional $1,500 grant for the football program.
“Citrus County is not a wealthy county at all,” Varnadore said. “... I was ecstatic, because that opens up a lot of opportunities for things that we normally can’t afford here.”
Varnadore’s victory also made him one of 32 finalists for the NFL’s high school coach of the year award, for which he had to write small essays on various topics, including community involvement, philosophy of the program, discipline policy and head injury prevention to name a few.
The top two will be announced at halftime of Sunday’s Pro Bowl in Orlando.
“I’m happy I just made it this far, honestly,” Varnadore said. “I feel like there’s a lot more deserving individuals that have done a lot greater things than what we did this year.”
For Marino, going to the Super Bowl to see the Eagles is “a dream come true.”
A lifelong fan from South Jersey, Marino witnessed the heartbreaks as a Philadelphia sports fan, especially when it came to the Eagles.
Then, after his college career wrapped at Rutgers, Marino got his start in coaching with the Eagles as a graduate assistant in 1988 under then head coach Buddy Ryan.
Two assistants at the time, Jeff Fisher and Wade Phillips, later became NFL head coaches.
“(Buddy Ryan) just exuded confidence,” Marino said. “He had a way of inspiring guys and motivating guys.”
Marino brought that confidence and swagger style when he relocated to Bradenton and joined Paul Maechtle’s coaching staff at Southeast High.
It’s followed at other coaching stops at Lakewood Ranch High, Sarasota High and Palmetto High.
Now Marino is getting the chance to see his hometown NFL team play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
“The Phillies won the World Series beating the Rays (in 2008),” Marino said. “The Sixers have won championships. The Flyers have won Stanley Cups, but the Eagles haven’t. And Philly is a football town. Sports talk radio in April is a little bit about baseball and then predominantly about who the Eagles are going to get in the draft. It’s dominated by football. It’s a football city.”
Last Sunday, Marino went to the NFC Championship Game, where the Eagles routed Minnesota Vikings 38-7.
That was made possible when Marino’s wife found cheap airfare and his cousin, Steve Darpino, got tickets as soon as they went on sale.
“The biggest thing that I was amazed with was in any stadium in any football game, third down is a big down and everybody gets crazy for third down,” Marino said. “But every down was like third down (in the NFC Championship Game). The entire stadium was on their feet clapping, yelling, screaming, stomping, beating. Every down. I can only imagine what it was like for Case Keenum being in that huddle trying to call a play.”
The Super Bowl trip also gives Marino the opportunity to visit with a former player from his Southeast High coaching days.
LaTorence Williams played college football in Minnesota and stayed when he met his future wife.
“That’s going to be great,” Marino said.
With the usual soaring ticket prices attached to the Super Bowl, it’s made possible in 2018 through Varnadore winning the Bucs’ coach of the year award.
Varnadore credits the school, Inverness and Citrus County community for voting like crazy to help him win.
“Small town rallies around something, it’s pretty unstoppable,” Varnadore said.