Apopka High state championship: Family dynamics reign during Apopka High state championship run as the Blue Darters face Weston Cypress Bay at the Florida Citrus Bowl Saturday night.
Family dynamics reign during Apopka High state championship run as the Blue Darters face Weston Cypress Bay at the Florida Citrus Bowl Saturday night.
They will be in God's place, a church on Sundays, when the occasional thought bubble pops into Rick Darlington's head.
Needing to improvise quickly, he will take a pencil and offering envelope from the pew, draw up a play, and then motion over to his son, Zack. Rick will show it to him and then make a touchdown signal with his hands.
The Lord works in strange ways when you live in a footballholic family.
Rick is the head football coach at Apopka High School. Zack is the starting quarterback. It's all reflective of family affair camaraderie as the Blue Darters head into the Class 8A state championship game against Weston Cypress Bay at the Florida Citrus Bowl on Saturday night.
There are two other sets of father-son working relationships on the team. Jeff Rolson, the defensive coordinator, is joined by his son Jake, a freshman. Defensive backs coach Billy Caughell Sr. and his son Billy Jr. came to Apopka after Caughell's 13-year run at Lyman ended last season. Billy is now a starting linebacker.
"Daddy Ball," Rick Darlington said sarcastically about the favoritism factor. "Billy starts at linebacker because his dad's the coach. That's why Zack plays. He's going to be the quarterback. I don't care if he throws 17 interceptions in a game."
But, as Daddy Darlington quickly notes: "I'm so competitive that if he didn't help us win, he wouldn't be on the field. I hate losing so much that he has to help us win."
That he has, very much so. After starting out 1-2, Apopka is averaging 49 points per game during an 11-game winning streak.
Family, football and fun also brings some understandable dynamics into play. How do you flip the switch from dad to coach? Are you tougher on your son? Is there a chance to break away from the 24/7 joined-at the-hip routine and not obsess about football?
Each relationship is different, forged in personalities and circumstances.
But all in all, it's a good thing, despite roles that get blurry at times.
"I just try to be that encouraging dad at home," Billy Caughell Sr. said. "It's tough sometimes to watch him and not get frustrated. I'm a little more intense. I have that expectation. It's a double-edged sword there."
The Darlingtons have it tougher of course.
Dad is in charge. Son is the star quarterback. There's a lineage that's been established, with oldest son Ty growing up in the program and blossoming into a star center who ended up starting for the Oklahoma Sooners as a true freshman this season.
Typical of a lineman, Ty is a tough hombre who doesn't blush at a coach's spittle in his face. He just uses that motivation to jack up the next guy who steps in front of him. Zack is a more delicate creature, as most quarterbacks tend to be.
Rick Darlington is smart enough to understand the differences and adjust accordingly.
"I'm got to be firm with him but I also have to be encouraging and positive because he's not the same Ty was," Darlington said. "He doesn't need any more pressure. He's always the quarterback of a team playing for the state championship."
Zach seems very appreciative of those circumstances. He is an extension of his father on the field, who loves to confuse opponents by utilizing a variety of base formations on offense. They include a single wing set with roots that are at least a century old.
"One coach said it's almost cheating to have me on the field and him being off the field," Zack said. "I am able to see the defense and know what we got and then go and talk to him to know how to attack it."
"He holds us to a higher standard. He doesn't want us to be good. He wants us to be great. He's probably harder on me more than he is on any other kid because he cares about me a little more. So I think."
This much is certain: Daddy Ball is rolling at Apopka. Next stop, the Citrus Bowl.