Sports Editor

PHS 18 for 18 helmet

This Peyton Manning-autographed helmet came along with the $10,000 shopping spree Poinciana High's football program received from equipment provider Riddell. The Eagles can now outfit over 90 players.

Poinciana High is still looking for its first football victory of the year, but a grant the Eagles recent secured a $10,000 grant from supplier Riddell to retrofit its collection of football equipment.

PHS was one of 18 schools to earn the grant as a winner of Riddell’s ’18 in 18’ Smarter Football program. The “18 in 18” pays homage to the number Peyton Manning wore throughout his NFL career, and he joined Riddell as part of his role as brand ambassador in reviewing applications to help select the 18 winning teams.

Whether bolstered by Riddell’s presence or not, the annual program received nearly 1,400 applications this summer.

It came with a 40-second congratulatory message from Manning — in which he called the school “Poinci-ana”, like the sister from “Frozen”, but the check still spent the same.

And it didn’t take PHS Head Coach Phillip Prior long to go through the $10K. He said biggest impact it had was on the program’s practice pads, which it was able to replace and create new, full sets for 90 players.

“Our pads were pretty outdated and broken,” Prior said.

The rest of the money was used for 52 new pads, practice jerseys and tackling equipment.

“We had kids showing up in the summer and into the fall, and we were running out of pads, and most of the ones we had weren’t in the best of shape,” Prior said.

In a press release, Riddell called the Smarter Football program “a grassroots movement that recognizes and rewards teams across the country for implementing ‘smarter’ tactics on and off the field. Since its inception, more than 2,400 football programs across North America, from the youth level to semi-pro, applied for a Smarter Football equipment grant.”

“When I first got involved with this initiative last year, I was so inspired by the stories and the significance the program had at all levels of the game,” said Manning. “I wanted to do something special in 2018 and show the football community that what they’re doing is making a positive difference in the game. I’m excited to be involved and honored to be part of the ‘18 in 18’ effort this year.”

Prior said he became aware of the grant over the summer, weeks after taking over the job — and seeing what the school’s equipment looked like.

“Our situation was pretty bad,” he said. “Since I got here that’s been one of the things I’ve worked at.”

Prior made PHS Athletic Director Rob Weilert aware too, but wrote up the team’s proposal himself.

“I knew there’d be a lot of competition, so I was pretty surprised when we won,” he said. “Basically we got an online shopping spree and, yeah, it didn’t take long to go through it. But we can fully outfit every kid we have now. The idea is that if we can do everything we need to in practice, it should translate into better results on the field on Friday nights.”