Derrick Crudup huddled his Canterbury football team one last time on Wednesday before their last game of the season.
The former University of Miami quarterback and Alabama graduate assistant began to reflect on his time as a player.
“Don’t leave this field feeling like you have any regrets,” he said. “I remember every single play as a player, and I would trade it all to go back. I would trade it all to be in your shoes right now.”
Finishing his first season as a high school football coach after spending last season as the Cougars’ offensive coordinator, Crudup has learned as much about how to be a coach as he has in calling the Xs and Os.
He’s led the Cougars to a 6-2 record and a meaningful game on Friday against Winter Haven All Saints Academy in the FCS championships of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. The Cougars, who are part of a 4-team development division in the SSAC, will host the championship at 7 p.m.
“Being here, it made me focus on what I’m saying and how I’m teaching,” Crudup said. “The teaching part of it is what I love most about it. You can’t take that for granted when you’re coaching. These guys are a coach’s dream. I’ll take these guys any day of the week over anyone else.”
A week ago, the Cougars defeated Ocala St. John Lutheran 29-21 to punch their ticket to the FCS championship game.
Four years ago, the Cougars were still playing 7-man football. But with a 24-man roster as of Wednesday, the program continues to grow.
“To us, it’s just another game,” Crudup said, “but having something to play for at the end of the season is something we never thought about. I think not even talking about it helped our team.”
Inside Canterbury School, which extends beyond the high school, there is a sense that the football program is building toward a bigger future, said junior running back Brendan Fritz.
“With our athletic director (Frank Turco) and our coaching staff, we’re really turning things around and the future is looking a lot better, he said.
Junior quarterback Danny Cunningham feels it when he walks the hallways and sees younger children taking notice.
“All the little kids look up to us,” said Cunningham, who helped the Cougars claim a Class 3A baseball title in the spring. “This game means everything. The whole season is in this one game.”
Winning has definitely made an impact.
While the Cougars, which score a little over 26 points per game, lost their first game of the season to Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin Catholic, they responded with five straight wins, including a confident 34-20 victory over FHSAA member St. John Neumann.
Over that stretch, the Cougars pitched two shutouts and outscored opponents by an average of 24 points per game. Much of their success has come from a high-paced offense that pushes the offense up the field and forces opponents into quick decisions. The Cougars’ scoring defense gives up two touchdowns per game.
“We try to condition ourselves in practice,” Crudup said. “Because in our offense, we like to call a lot of stuff at the line of scrimmage. We’re basically a no-huddle offense with great pace. We don’t want to give rest to the defense.”
Crudup said the victory over Neumann, which finished 5-4, was one of the team’s best performances of the season.
“In terms of all the phases, that was the most complete game we played this year,” he said.
But now the Cougars turn their focus toward finishing their season with a high mark.
“We think of it as a win or go home,” Cunningham said. “If you lose you go home, but if you win you come back to school as a hero really.”
And without regrets.