By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — D.J. Ogilvie isn’t the coach at Lemon Bay anymore, but the motto he instilled during his six years at the school is still going strong today.
In fact, it’s become a lifestyle under first-year coach Don Southwell.
Football teams are always told to “control the controllable,” but the Manta Rays have simplified that down to a simple five-letter acronym — TTTIF. It stands for “The Toughest Team In Florida,” and the Manta Rays wear that saying day in and day out on the practice field.
They literally wear it. Southwell can be seen in a hat printed with the saying as he strolls the practice field.
“For the last six years that’s been our motto and I think it fits Lemon Bay perfectly because we have some good athletes, but we play even better athletes most Friday nights so (we) control what we can control and that’s how tough we are,” Southwell said.
Southwell spent the past decade as Lemon Bay’s defensive coordinator before taking over in February for Ogilvie, who left to take the position of athletic director at United Local High in Hanoverton, Ohio, where he coached from 19982004. With an inheritance of 15 returning starters, Southwell wanted to keep Ogilvie’s tradition alive for a group that’s been living with it for the past few years.
That includes junior quarterback Hayden Wolff, who recently grabbed his first collegiate offer from Kentucky. He hopes to add more with a strong showing this season as the Manta Rays look to improve upon last season’s 3-7 record.
For Wolff and others, TTTIF is a culture.
“It’s not just a saying that we break down on. We really believe that it’s an everyday thing,” Wolff said. “When we wake up in the morning — ‘Toughest Team In Florida.’ It’s everything. It’s a lifestyle, really. It’s not just a saying. We actually do believe that we’re going to be the toughest team in Florida and we’re going to go out and show that.”
Even through just one week of practice, Southwell and the Manta Rays have a strong belief this will be a turnaround season in a wide-open District 5A-11. Lemon Bay is only two years removed from its last district championship and a second in three years is the goal to earn an automatic berth into the Class 5A playoffs.
The Manta Rays were in every district game a season ago. Turnovers ultimately cost them in their losses, but with another offseason of TTTIF under the team’s belt, there’s no reason why this year can’t be Lemon Bay’s year.
“That TTTIF is a yearlong thing,” Southwell said. “We had a great offseason in the weight room and this summer guys have shown up and worked hard in the weight room and on the track. It’s an all-year-long commitment really that allows them to then come out here and be tough.”
A toughness built on attitude and effort.
“We’re might not be the most talented, we might not be the fastest, we might not be the strongest, but I guarantee you we’re going to play with the most attitude and effort and that’s what’s really going to let us win games,” Wolff said.