Camp also marks Graham’s last duties as Steinbrenner coach
By Kyle LoJacono
The only football coach in Steinbrenner High history had one more duty before stepping away from the post.
Floyd Graham resigned several weeks ago to take care of his sick parents in his home state of Alabama, but he already committed to leading the Lutz Chiefs Summer Football Camp at Oscar Cooler Sports Complex in Lutz, which ends June 29.
“I came back just for this camp because of the relationship I’ve had with the Lutz Chiefs being our school’s feeder program,” Graham said. “My players are out here running it, so I’m working here during the day and packing at night. … It’s giving me the opportunity to hang out with my players and coaches again before I leave.”
Graham and his wife, Jennifer, are taking a leave of absence from their teaching positions at Steinbrenner, which required them to resign as the Warriors football and volleyball coach, respectively.
Linda Cobb, spokeswoman for Hillsborough County schools, said those with an approved leave of only one year are guaranteed their same teaching position back if they want it. Graham said he and Jennifer would like to return to Steinbrenner for the 2013-14 school year if their family matters are resolved.
About a dozen of Graham’s football players volunteered at the camp, including junior Curtis Fitch. The quarterback, who is the son of University of South Florida offensive coordinator Todd Fitch, said coaching the kids gave him a greater appreciation for what Graham and his father do.
“We do a small game at the end, and we get fired up watching,” Fitch said. “I can only imagine what coach Graham or my dad feels during a game.”
Fitch also volunteered at the camp last year. He said it’s great to give back to the community while helping develop young football players.
“Every other school, like Gaither and Sickles, have been around for awhile and have built off this kind of thing,” Fitch said. “They’re the future of Steinbrenner football, and someday it’s going to be us coming back to see them play when we’re alumni. That’s something I really want to build is pride in our school.”
Graham said having a relationship with the local youth football organization is important for a successful high school program.
“Zach Kilburn is the director here for the Lutz Chiefs, and we’ve worked together on this camp,” Graham said. “He helped get the word out about the camp, and all these young kids are Lutz Chiefs. We’ve had some coaching clinics where his coaches came over in the spring to learn how we’re doing things at Steinbrenner so we’re on the same page.”
The first week of the camp is for players ages 6 to 10 where they teach the basics, followed by a session for those up to 13. The younger players are invited back for the older camp to watch the more advanced drills.
Graham said he received several comments from parents touting the camp’s added benefits.
“I had three sets of parents say to me this is fantastic because they go home and take a nap.” Graham said with a smile.
Logan Kilburn, 10, is a running back/linebacker for the Chiefs midget team and is the son of the organization’s director. He participated in the camp last year and said the drills are improving his game.
“It helps me with my footwork and technique,” Kilburn said. “It also helped me with catching the football and getting faster. That’s what I need to work on because I play running back.”
Another returning camper was Nicholas Testa, 10, who also plays linebacker for the Chiefs super midget club.
“It’s going to help me a lot because they’re teaching me the things that they’re doing in high school,” Testa said. “That’s what I want to do is play football. … They’re teaching me rules about what I’m supposed to do and not supposed to do that I didn’t’ know before.”
One of the newcomers to the camp is Brian Ford, who is volunteering for the first time.
“It’s fun to be a coach,” Ford said with a smile.
Ford, a junior center, started playing football in high school. He said the campers will be ahead of where he was when they start playing under the lights on Friday nights.
“It lets them know all those basics I didn’t know going into high school,” Ford said. “It gives them a lot of good conditioning habits, and we’re telling them how important it is to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated. It lets them know what’s expected.”
A lot of fun and teaching happens at the sessions, but football rivalries also bleed through.
Connor Whelan, 10, showed up to the third day of the youth camp wearing a Gaither shirt. The Cowboys have become one of Steinbrenner’s rivals, and the two teams compete in the same football district.
Graham couldn’t let the fashion choice go without at least some lighthearted kidding.
“I told him I was going to have him run extra sprints because he’s got that Gaither shirt on,” Graham said with a laugh.