Religion

Manatee High football’s post-game prayer is a traditional staple

Head coach John Booth at Manatee High's homecoming game against Steinbrenner High Friday at Hawkins Stadium. HERALD FILE PHOTO.
Head coach John Booth at Manatee High's homecoming game against Steinbrenner High Friday at Hawkins Stadium. HERALD FILE PHOTO. ttompkins@bradenton.com

The words are symbolic and they’re a Manatee High football tradition.

At the end of every game in the fall season, players and coaches huddle together.

They share the Lord’s Prayer, before adding language that legendary coach Eddie Shannon started years ago:

We wounded them.

They fall at our feet.

The Lord is our Shepherd.

They shall not rise.

“It’s a pride thing for us, we have pride with our team, within our program,” Manatee High head coach John Booth said. “... When you’re talking about saying the Lord’s Prayer first, that comes from His strength and Him allowing us the strength and the courage to fight. We wounded them, they fall at our feet. The Lord is our Shepherd, He is going to guide us, He’ll protect us. They shall not rise with His strength, direction, guidance (and) we’ll come out on top victorious.”

Booth, who attends a Southern Baptist church, has seen his faith tested in sports.

First, Booth followed up his playing career with Manatee High in college and then the Kansas City Chiefs signed him. But the signing was short-lived when Booth went to NFL Europe before getting cut.

A career in the Arena Football League also ended when he was cut and released.

“That was tough,” Booth said. “It was something I’d done since I was 8 years old, and it’s pretty much all I know.”

After searching for his next step, Booth looked to his faith for an answer. His career switched from playing to coaching as he landed a job that brought him back to Florida.

But even taking over the football program at Valrico Bloomingdale came with its own challenges.

Despite the Bulls coming off a winning season, there was a history of losing at the Hillsborough County program. In fact, Bloomingdale had 21 consecutive losing seasons before generating one in 2008. Then Booth became the program’s head coach in 2009, enduring four straight losing seasons until a 6-4 campaign happened in 2013.

Bloomingdale followed that up with a program-best 9-2 mark, which included the playoffs, just a year later, which was Booth’s first as Manatee’s head coach.

“That was definitely a trying time with my faith, because it was like, ‘God, I feel like you brought me here for a reason. Why are we going through these difficult challenges,’ ” Booth said. “But what’s neat and encouraging through all of that is ... God’s provided and turned those things into learning lessons.”

Upon leaving the Bulls to take over at his alma mater, Booth faced another test: taking over from legendary head coach Joe Kinnan, who won five state titles during his long career on the Manatee High sidelines.

“We’ve had our fair share of challenges these first three years to say the least,” Booth said. “With off the field issues, just circumstances that are out of our control and trying to kind of navigate through those things. It is tough and it is challenging.”

There are other traditions within the Hurricanes football program as it relates to faith. There’s a meeting with a team chaplain, as part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, on game days as the players wait for their pre-game meals.

“Everyone is invited just to learn about Jesus,” Manatee High quarterback A.J. Colagiovanni said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s totally laid back and it’s totally your choice. It just helps people, who want to know about Jesus and might not know Him. Or find out what He’s done. So it’s a big educational thing. It’s awesome.”

But what involves every player and coach is something Manatee County legend Eddie Shannon leads when he’s at a game on a Friday night: the post-game huddle that ends with a prayer and the Canes repeating the four-line ending speech in unison back at whichever person starts it.

“You hear it and go, ‘Wow, this is tradition,’ ” Colagiovanni said. “You see everyone doing it. All the coaches through all the years doing it when they were at Manatee. It’s just a huge tradition that we do at Manatee. Having Coach Shannon come in, I remember my sophomore year my first home game, I was new to it. And you’re kind of thrown into it and memorize it as it goes. When I had my sophomore year, it hit me. To see how old Coach Shannon is and the impact he’s had, not only on Manatee just the whole county and all of Florida, and the power that he instilled with his message is pretty awesome. It really hits you as a player, and I think it hits everyone.”

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