Celebration seeks to build beyond football foundation

News-Gazette Photo/Ken Jackson

Celebration football players hustle off the practice field Monday as a thunderstorm came in and a lightning warning was issued.

Storm travels to Ft. Meade tonight for Kickoff Classic

By Ken Jackson

Sports Editor

At Celebration, it’s been football coach Jay Sobke’s job to change the culture of the Storm gridiron program.

After a 2017 season of trying to do that while “surviving” — his word choice — and picking up the team’s pieces after former one-year Coach Joel Smeenge left those pieces all over the place, Celebration is now in a position to take the next step.

That starts tonight, when the Storm travel to Polk County to take on the Miners of Fort Meade in its Kickoff Classic.

While dealing with figuring out what players were healthy and eligible on a week-to-week basis, Sobke, after coming over from Harmony, watched and worked as the Storm did not score a point in its first eight games of the season and muddled through a 1-9 record.

From the moment 2017 ended, Sobke and his staff worked with the players to get a foundation in place — and he intends to be around to see a structure be built.

News-Gazette Photo/Ken Jackson
Celebration football players hustle off the practice field Monday as a thunderstorm came in and a lightning warning was issued.

“I intend to be here until they don’t want me anymore,” he said this week while gliding between the school’s cafeteria and gym lobby after Monday’s thunderstorms moved practice inside. “We’ve put in a new culture in the weight room, in the classroom, among our leaders. We established it all over the course of last season. Frankly, the kids are anxious to show what they’ve done.”

This time last year, Sobke said he had to fashion a varsity roster out of about 21 kids. That’s more than doubled this week, and new students are filing in to create a youth movement and tomorrow’s Storm starters. It’s a big deal, because it’s a big ask.

“I know I was the third coach in three years here,” Sobke said. “The idea was to get the kids to buy in and provide them the highest value experience we can. We’ve had more and more kids who have bought in. We have a lot of things building now and hopefully it shows on Friday.”

Two of those players were key last year. Running back Jaheim “Bama” Sutton was the leading rusher, and senior quarterback Jacob Eddowes started the last half of 2017.

After Friday, the Storm will open the regular season at home against Poinciana on Aug. 24.