BRADENTON -- Saint Stephen's and Palma Sola Park are separated by fewer than three miles.
It's a five-minute drive as long as the traffic heading west on Manatee Avenue is light enough to cooperate.
None of the players and coaches who make up the Falcons football team considered it a hardship spending the past few years trucking to Palma Sola Park each day for practice or hosting games there a handful of Fridays a year.
But now they get to spend an entire spring and fall in their own palatial stadium, the centerpiece of the $4.5 million project that hatched the Moore Athletic Complex at Turner Fields. The Falcons got a taste of the turf-lined field last season when they christened it Oct. 25 against rival Out-of-Door Academy.
This year, however, they'll get to indulge all year long, beginning with Friday's jamboree featuring Bradenton Christian and Southwest Florida Christian that kicks off at 7 p.m.
"It's not anything like anything we've ever had before, and I think we really cherish that," said running back Luc Goeders, a rising senior. "We want to put on a show for the people who come out and support us, and that stadium allows us to do that to the best of our abilities."
Friday night marks another watershed moment for the Falcons when they officially open the facility's fieldhouse, which includes a locker room and weight room. That means no more treks to the top floor of Hoagland Arena, which is where the Falcons currently suit up and conduct meetings.
"Everything we do will be based right here," coach Tod Creneti said. "We're not going to wonder if we have space, we're not going to wonder where we're going to go to get work done. And the kids are really buying into the idea that this is their home."
They're not the only ones. Playing an independent schedule last fall -- Saint Stephen's is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association but chose not to compete in a district during football season -- the Falcons went 5-5 just two years after a winless season.
The improved play, coupled with the team now playing and practicing entirely on campus, has created buzz in the hallways.
"When you can see something from the window of your school, it's a lot different than having to drive five minutes to watch a game," rising senior wide receiver Nick Rodhouse said. "There's definitely a lot more spirit around the student body for football and other sports played on that field as well."
And for Saint Stephen's, that means no more steamy bus rides to Palma Sola.
Traveling for away games is one thing.
But home games?
"You don't know how inconvenient that bus was. I think it contributed to a couple of losses," Goeders said. "It's cramped, it's uncomfortable. ... It's nice now. Before the game, you walk around, you just walk straight out there. The players definitely appreciate it a lot more."
The new stadium, the first to feature lights on Saint Stephen's complex, has played host to soccer and lacrosse games.
It treated the Falcons well last season. They defeated ODA before blanking West Palm Beach Berean Christian (17-0) in the season finale two weeks later.
The Falcons hope to generate a similar vibe this fall. The best part, however, is they will have all season to try.
"Our program is more closely tied to the fabric of the school now," Creneti said. "That's as much the kids that are in it and their leadership as it is the facility. But all those things matter."