By Kyle LoJacono
After three straight third place finishes, Zephyrhills Christian Academy is looking for a six-man state championship.
“We’ve had the talent to win it since we started in the league four years ago,” said coach Mike Smith, who is also the school’s principal and co-founder. “We lost in the semifinals by one, six and one points. Last year we were 9-1 in the regular season and I think we’re a lot better this year.”
The team has started 8-0 with the offense averaging 52 points per game while allowing just seven total points and recording six shutouts. One win was a forfeit over Genesis Prep.
Zephyrhills Christian’s quarterback and leader of that prolific offense is Mikey Smith, who has played the position since starting in the Zephyrhills Police Athletic League at age 8. He is also Mike’s son and an eighth grader at the school.
“We’re a strong team and we’re fast and athletic,” said the Warriors signal caller. “We should go all the way this year … Winning a state title was all of our goals coming into the year.”
Mikey said the key to that high scoring attack is the offensive line, which is known as the hog line and includes Tim Thurston, Dominic Ferrington, Devin White and Andrew Ivie.
“It’s satisfying to get so many points, but I wish it took more plays sometimes,” White, a junior, said. “We only get to play like one or two plays at a time. It’s fun though. It’s cool to see the score and know we helped that happen.”
Ivie is only in eighth grade, but is already one of the biggest players.
“We’re all like brothers on the line,” Ivie said. “We’re all together as one unit.”
Also playing a big part in the offense is running back and wide receiver Josh Roberts. He started playing in the eighth grade and is currently a senior.
“We usually fall apart at the beginning of the season, but this year we started really strong,” Roberts said. “We’ve been more together and also are much better players. I think we’ll go all the way.”
Six-man football becomes easier for athletic players like Roberts as there are few people and more space on the field.
“It’s a lost faster,” Roberts said. “If you break a tackle you can score real easily because there aren’t many levels to the defense.”
Mike’s brother, Dale, is the assistant on the team. Both went to Zephyrhills High and played on the football team. Dale set the Bulldogs record in the bench press with 420 pounds that stands to this day.
Dale’s son, Dale Smith Jr., is a linebacker on the team and one of the defensive leaders. He is a senior, but last played football as a freshman in Colorado.
“We don’t care what part of the field they’re on because we act like it’s the goal line every play,” Dale Jr. said. “We don’t ever want to give up a yard.”
Dale moved his family back to Zephyrhills after his father, Paul Smith, died of a heart attack in January. Paul handled the maintenance for Zephyrhills Christian and the football field is named after him.
Zephyrhills Christian has about 150 students, 44 in the high school. The team has 16 players, but the smaller talent pool does not seem to hurt the Warriors on the field.
“I have eight kids who could legitimately start in Pasco County public schools,” Mike said. “After those eight kids I’d still have a good junior varsity team in the public schools with what we have. So we have some depth that we didn’t have in the past. We had the same amount of kids last year, but it dropped from good athletes to kids that had never played football before.”
The tackle program at the school has been around for four years. Before that the Warriors played flag football. Mike said the team has players from mainly Zephyrhills, but also Dade City and Wesley Chapel.
“We love football, but the most important thing is remembering that God is most important and then comes school work,” Mike said. “We make sure they know if they want to play they need to take care of both those things first. Without God, football is meaningless.”