New coach Travis Homewood brings familiar formula to Dragons football program thirsty for success.
The FSDB football team has won one game in the last two years. There may be more interest in playing in the marsh behind campus at sunset than under the lights at Usina Field.
First-year coach Homewood has fewer than 18 players on his roster.
None of those facts, from the outside, appear conducive to a successful football season. But the fact the Dragons are playing for a 105th season is more important than any of that.
It means there is an opportunity for young men like Bryan Raffa to play football for the first time. It means young men like Fernando Dopico-Fernandez, Walter Douglas, and Alex Aldridge get to return to the gridiron. It means Homewood is going to pour everything he has in his first year as a varsity coach.
“I don’t know if we will be champions, or not,” Raffa said. “I want to try again and again, and I want to keep going.”
Raffa transferred to FSDB in March after a spell at Boone High School in Orlando. He did not play athletics at the 2,800-student school or feel welcomed.
Both have changed since he arrived in St. Augustine. His best friend, team manager Nathan De Los Reyes Diaz, encouraged him to play football and he has embraced the challenge. Raffa’s leadership, and willingness to endure, was immediately apparent. Homewood named the 18-year-old tight end a team captain before suiting up in red and white.
The Dragons were forced to cancel their spring scrimmage due to a lack of numbers. This year’s team tentatively has 18 players and is tasked with introducing a new quarterback and two running backs to operate the Power I, wishbone and double wing sets that Homewood expects to run.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t that important,” Homewood said. “It’s very important FSDB continue to have a program.”
Homewood was an assistant under Eric LeFors when the Dragons won the school’s third DeafDigest national championship in 2013. He doesn’t hide the fact he learned about deaf culture and deaf football through being an assistant under LeFors and being an assistant on a staff when his son, Wes, was on the team.
Wes Homewood is one of three FSDB alumni on the staff. Ryan Santana is a 2010 graduate and Rodney Cook was a Dragons running back in the 1980s.
The success of this year’s team may not be seen on the field. There is less depth and more inexperience returning from a 2017 squad that lost three of its four North Florida Football Conference contests by 50 points.
Sophomore Matthew Guillou will quarterback the team when the season kicks off at home on Aug. 23 against Gainesville Oak Hall. Homewood expects Dopico-Fernandez to play fullback while Luis Merced and Reynaldo Suero-Perez will be the running backs.
Raffa, despite being a tight end, may not see the ball much this year. The Dragons typically only throw out of necessity. But his selflessness and willingness to do anything for the team may be more valuable than his receiving statistics. Raffa’s father was a wide receiver in high school and he is relishing his opportunity to play varsity football for the first time.
“He said ‘If you work hard, challenge yourself (to) be better, you can,’” Raffa said of his father after a recent practice. “My goal for the team is to be strong, not be afraid, be smart and be good listeners.”
Raffa and Homewood are realistic. They know this season will be a challenge. But, if they can instill a culture of accountability, work and commitment — even if the scoreboard is a sobering illumination of the mountain the Dragons face — the captain and coach will deem this year a success.
“It’s going to take effort to get kids (to) want to play football again and build the foundation off that,” Homewood said.
Coach: Travis Homewood, first year (0-0 record)
2017 record: 1-7, 0-4
3 Players to Watch
QB Matthew Guillou: The sophomore will begin his first year as the Dragons’ starter.
DE Alex Aldridge: One of the few returnees from last year’s squad. Recorded 19 tackles in FSDB’s only win of the 2017 season.
TE Bryan Raffa: The coaching staff will rely on the senior captain to instill accountability in his teammates. This is his first year playing football and he is eager to make the most of the opportunity.
Circle that date: Sept. 27 vs. St. Joseph. The Dragons and Flashes will meet for the 86th time. It’s a game the Dragons, who will be at home at Usina Field, will always want to play, regardless of how many players are on their roster.
Aug. 23 vs. Gainesville Oak Hall*
Aug. 30 at Daytona Beach Halifax Academy
Sept. 13 at Merritt Island Christian
Sept. 20 vs. St. Johns Country Day*
Sept. 27 vs. St. Joseph*
Oct. 11 at Gainesville St. Francis*
Oct. 19 vs. Cedar Creek Christian
Oct. 27 at Alabama School for the Deaf
*North Florida Football Conference South Division contest
at Gainesville Oak Hall* L 52-0
vs. Daytona Beach Halifax Academy L 12-0
at St. Johns Country Day* L 27-25
vs. Merritt Island Christian W 27-6
at Harvest Community School L 41-7
vs. Gainesville St. Francis* L 56-6
vs. Alabama School for the Deaf L 26-25
at St. Joseph* L 54-0
*North Florida Football Conference South Division contest
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing or blind/visually impaired. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit www.fsdbk12.org