DUNEDIN — T-shirts with motivational statements printed across the back are a staple for high school sports teams nowadays.
More often than not it’s a generic cliche, maybe one with a cute, catchy rhyme or alliteration.
The Dunedin High football program is a participant in the yearly T-shirt ritual, too, but its new coaching staff is fully expecting the messages to be displayed on the field.
Matt LePain, in his first year at Dunedin after spending three seasons at Palm Harbor University High, is in the process of cultivating tenacity as he looks to turn around a struggling Falcons program. “Fight” and words that instill a mentality of never giving up — that’s what LePain has his players wearing around on their 2014 gear.
Much to the coach’s delight, that’s exactly what Dunedin showed Friday night at Seminole High during its yearly spring game.
After falling behind by 13 points, the Falcons stayed in the game long enough to mount a late comeback and leave town with a 16-16 tie.
“All I cared about coming into the spring and this game was that my kids fought,” LePain said. “I could care less what that scoreboard said. If we came out and fought and competed and got better, that’s all I asked for.
“To end this way is even better. I can’t believe the fight they showed.”
Coming off a one-win season with a new coach, outside expectations may not be high for Dunedin next fall. Only 25 players dressed Friday in Seminole and overall participation numbers will likely be small by the time the Kickoff Classic comes around in August.
Though it’s foolhardy to put much stock into spring games and their results, the positive vibe felt from Friday’s comeback is something LePain hopes will fuel his team’s summer workouts heading into the season.
“To come back like that being down 16-3 and take advantage of the opportunities they gave us; that’s huge,” he said. “The beautiful thing that they understand now and they got a chance to prove and see is that momentum is an incredible boost of energy.”