LAND O’LAKES — Fittingly, John Castelamare is playing the role of Lee Marvin.
Castelamare, like the late actor known for his tough-guy roles, is a hard-nosed coach, expecting the best out his players. All 12 of them.
“We’ve got ‘The Dirty Dozen’ here,” the long-time Pasco County coach said of his Academy of the Lakes football team. “We’ve got 12 guys and we need them all.”
The Wildcats’ 7-on-7 football team, which made the second round of the playoffs last season (7-1), is back, and despite having the fewest number of players rostered in recent seasons, is poised for a good run. That’s because Academy returns seven seniors — the most ever — including running back and leading scorer Ahkill McGill, plus the team’s big and athletic signal caller: junior Max Stepanets.
Yet, with only 12 players, it means most will have to be two-way stars both offensively and defensively, especially since Castelamare has just five reserves, three of them linemen.
“We think with what we put on the field, we can go pretty good,” said Castelamare, who coached both Ridgewood’s and Wesley Chapel’s football programs. “But if one of them gets hurt, and with a lot of them playing both ways, as it is, then its going to get real tough.”
Most coaches, at the beginning of the season, will stress their team needs to stay injury free, but none more so than Academy since Castelamare has only 50-60 boys enrolled at the school, not too mention many of his 12 play other sports, as well.
“I’m a little worried about the future (graduating seven seniors this season),” Castelamare added. “Same as I would at any other school that lost such a big senior class and any other coach probably would, too, going through the same thing.”
However, the future does look bright for athletics at Academy, with the private school recently purchasing 47 acres from the McManus family. While the school has not announced its official plans for the land, many have speculated it could be athletic fields, from a football stadium to a playing field for the 2A state softball semifinalsts.
But as the Wildcats prepare for their season opener hosting Winter Park Geneva, Castelamare is focusing on keeping his unit tough, just as Marvin would have done in the 1967 classic, despite many of the young players never seeing the movie.
“I’ve told them about ‘The Dirty Dozen’ was a tough unit, one unit of tough guys that stayed together and worked hard together,” Castelamare said, adding, with a shrug, whether or not he would show the movie to his players.
Though if the Wildcats are to stay tough, and together, Castelamare, like Marvin, is the just the man to lead them.
“We expect to do very well as long as no one gets hurt and can work together and work well together,” Castelamare said. “They have to take it by each game, one at a time, but we expect a lot out of these guys with just 12 of them. … But what’s on that field can be pretty good, just like the original ‘Dirty Dozen.’”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.