By JOHN LEMBOjlembo@bradenton.com
Numbers will mean everything this season at Saint Stephen’s.
We’re not talking about wins, although those are always nice.
We’re talking about bodies. The Falcons football team needs them and needs to find them before they do anything else.
That’s the challenge facing Tod Creneti, hired as the school’s new football coach last week.
His goal isn’t so much to build a winner -- but some enthusiasm, some fervor, centering around football.
That’s the first step.
Last year’s team had just 18 players, and sometimes fewer at practices. Regardless of the size of the school, or the quality of your district, that’s not enough.
That’s what Creneti needs to do before he does anything. And it sounds like he’s aware of that.
He wants to make football a happening at Saint Stephen’s, something that builds from the inside out. The Falcons don’t need to pack the bleachers or snarl traffic along Manatee Avenue every Friday afternoon -- they just need to spread some enthusiasm.
In Creneti, they have a guy a who has built from the ground up before, taking over programs at Melbourne Central Catholic and St. Petersburg Catholic after each had been hit hard by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Saint Stephen’s is nowhere near that boat. There are no stigmas attached to the Falcons, no probations or fines hanging over their heads.
They just haven’t taken to football quite the same way as the folks at Out-of-Door Academy and Bradenton Christian. The Thunder and Panthers hatched their programs in 2006, the same year the Falcons reintroduced the sport at Saint Stephen’s.
This is no easy task. Commitment is everything in football, and if kids don’t think they want to come out, or choose not to commit 100 percent to the grind, then they shouldn’t.
And Saint Stephen’s isn’t any less of a school because the football team is struggling. But if you’re going to have and field a program, why not try and make it as competitive and as fun as possible?
What makes prep football so great is because it can be the most galvanizing of all sports -- especially here in Florida, and especially here in Manatee County.
It begins in the hallways, however, and then spreads throughout the community.
So maybe football will work at Saint Stephen’s, or maybe it won’t. But the fate of the football program is in the hands of those who are the closest to it, and only they will dictate whether the Falcons will fly or not.
Right now, wins are secondary at Saint Stephen’s.
Participation, however, isn’t.
John Lembo, Herald sportswriter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2097.