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Football Success Triggers Surge in Alonso School Spirit

Before the summer break, the lasting memory for Alonso High School’s year was its baseball team capturing a Class 6A state championship. Two months into a new school year, Alonso’s football team tied a program record by starting 5-0.

School spirit, anyone?

You bet.

“It’s awesome,’’ said Reno Gabonay, a two-way lineman for Alonso’s football team who lives in The Bridges. “You can just see the entire student body get behind us. There aren’t too many disappointing Saturday mornings. There is definitely a lot more good feelings for our school.’’

The Ravens football team was at the centerpiece of the school’s ultimate attention-grabbing moment on Sept. 30 when Fox-13’s weekly Friday morning pep-rally segment came to Alonso. The entire student body was released into the stadium for a live shot and Alonso’s unbeaten beginning was celebrated for all of the Tampa Bay television market to witness.

“That really boosted everybody’s enthusiasm,’’ Gabonay said.

A successful football program can do that for a school.

Even for students who don’t know the difference between a goalpost and a goal-line, everyone can get caught up in a spirited start.

“Everyone loves a winner and we all know that,’’ said Brian Grantham, Alonso’s athletic director. “This isn’t just about the football players. This is about the cheerleaders, the dancers, the band, the students, the parents, the community, everyone associated with Alonso High School.

“I’ve always felt that the way you start a school year has a lot to do with the way you end a school year. And if you get started with a lot of good feelings and something for the entire student body to rally around and have in common, it can do a world of good.’’

In 2004, the Ravens also won their first five games before losing at home against Robinson. That team finished with a school-record eight victories and a state playoff berth. In 2007, the Ravens defeated Chamberlain in a winner-take-all game for the district title. In 2009, the Ravens also entered the state playoffs and rallied from a large deficit to beat Newsome on the road, earning the school’s first postseason victory in football.

Those are lofty standards, but the Ravens set out to forge a new identity this season.

Brian Emanuel, Alonso’s third head coach in three seasons, saw some potential in the offseason. The numbers were up. Participation in the conditioning program was exemplary. When the Ravens rallied from a 12-point deficit to defeat Spoto in the preseason Kickoff Classic, there was great optimism for what was ahead.

“We’ve got a great school here with a great Westchase community,’’ Emanuel said. “We’re not interested in a quick fix. We want to build something that will last. We think we can do that and we’d like to give the community something it can really be proud of.’’

So far, so good.

The Ravens got off to a big start behind the play of quarterback Brandon Hawkins, along with skill-position standouts Brandon Holloway and Ish Witter.

Through it all, Emanuel said he never wants to lose sight of the big picture.

“Show me a great coach and I’ll show you a great teacher,’’ Grantham said. “Brian Emanuel is a great teacher and he passes that along to the kids.

“You can just tell that a lot of togetherness is being built here.’’

Each Friday, Alonso players wear navy blue polo shirts to school as a sign of team unity. It makes them easily identifiable in classrooms and the hallways. They are proud to represent the team and even prouder to hear compliments.

“We’re hearing nice things, not taunting,’’ Gabonay said with a smile.

“When you dress up nice and do things together, you tend to act a little better,’’ Grantham said. “Football is a high-profile activity. It’s the one thing at school that draws television cameras and reporters. It’s always nice to see your school portrayed in a positive light.’’

Grantham hopes Alonso’s football season will reach a crescendo on Nov. 10 when the Ravens entertain their neighborhood rivals, the Sickles Gryphons.

This season’s Sickles-Alonso game is part of the RaceTrac Rivalry Bowl, sponsored by the RaceTrac convenience store chain. RaceTrac wristbands were distributed to students of both schools. Each time a student purchases a soda from RaceTrac and has their wristband scanned, that school gets a point.

The school with the most points will receive a $3,500 check at the game for its booster club. The second-place school gets $1,500. Either way, it’s another fun activity that allows Alonso students to display their competitiveness.

“Of course, we want to win that and we want to win the game, too,’’ Grantham said. “Like I said, everyone loves a winner. Football can get a lot of people involved and make them notice all the other great things that we have going on here on our campus. It makes for a really enjoyable start to the school year.’’

By Joey Johnston


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