Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

LONG, STEADY CLIMB | Saint Stephen's Was 0-10 in 2011; Saturday the Falcons Play for the State Championship

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

LONG, STEADY CLIMB | Saint Stephen's Was 0-10 in 2011; Saturday the Falcons Play for the State Championship

Article excerpt

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

BRADENTON -- There weren't many positives head coach Tod Creneti could accentuate. His Saint Stephen's Falcons had just gotten dusted 33-0 by Santa Fe Catholic in the 2015 Sunshine State Athletic Conference title game.

Not much could be said. But something was.

"We said, 'Hey, it's important that we remember how this feels, and that we don't want to feel this way again,'" Creneti told his players.

The Falcons lost just two seniors. Graduation didn't tear the team apart. Then came the vow the players made during spring camp.

They'd be back.

"It was a team decision," safety Letherio Jones said. "We wanted to have the seniors go out strong and we knew that we had good leadership to make it back and hopefully win."

The Falcons are back. They lost their first game of the season, to Community School of Naples, but since have won 10 straight, the most recent a 40-20 victory last week over Seven Rivers Christian in an SSAC semifinal game.

But that victory, and the nine before, won't matter unless the Falcons can fulfill completely that vow made months ago. And that means a triumph over St. Edward's School on Saturday night in Oviedo in the conference

championship game.

"They've been billing it as the independent state championship," Creneti said. "I'll be honest with you. I don't care what you call it. You want to get out there and play well. That's our goal."

It'd be quite an accomplishment for a program that went 0-10 in Creneti's first season. That was 2011, when the Falcons allowed 405 points while scoring just 75.

Back then, establishing a football culture at Saint Stephen's took a back seat to the necessary first step. Winning.

"You always have doubts," Creneti said. "We lost the first 14 regular-season games together. We absolutely believed that the culture we wanted to build would be a culture that kids thrived in.

"Where they felt like they had a purpose, where they felt like they were cared about, where they felt like they were being challenged. And that, over time, would attract the right kind of kid, and I think that has really come to pass here."

The turnaround was consistent, from 0-10 in '11, to 4-7 the next season, 6-5 in '13, 8-3 in '14, and last season's mark of 9-2. …

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