LARGO, FL (WFLA) – A Pinellas Park football practice is a cacophony of line calls, popping pads, and screaming coaches. Somewhere in the din, one voice stands out- that of Patriots head coach Kenneth Crawford.
“I just decided I didn’t want to grow up and I wanted to be a part of a football team,” smiles Crawford. “I wasn’t good enough to go play after college, so here I am.”
Crawford, a bearded, tattooed, straw-hat wearing, barrel-chested man, employs a vocal coaching technique, to say the least. His harsh, bellowing voice echoes across the gridiron with little effort. He pauses while plays are being run, but moments of absolute silence are a rarity.
“I just do it the way I do it, and it seems to be working,” says Crawford, who dredged the Patriots program from the depths of irrelevance when he arrived seven seasons ago. Pinellas Park went 6-43 in the five years before his arrival, but since then, the Patriots have become contenders in 7A, winning 22 of their last 27 games.
“We were just trying to bring some respect back. It was pretty bad,” admits Crawford. “Each year we just go out and try to win games one at a time.”
Crawford hasn’t missed a moment of the Patriots rise to prominence, despite being diagnosed with squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma, forms of skin cancer.
“I go in every three months, they take samples and then they tell me I’ve gotta come back in. They cut them out, and they stitch it up and we come back. I’ll look like Frankenstein pretty soon here,” he laughs.
“It’s just one of those deals. It’s not really about what I’m doing now, it’s about what I did the whole rest of my life. I was always the fat kid at the beach with no shirt on.”
Hence the straw hat.
“I’ve got skin cancer all over my body, I don’t want it on my face,” he says with a smirk. “You know, once you start getting those stitches on your body, and you start seeing people getting those stitches, you find out real quick about sunscreen and shade hats and long sleeves and all that stuff.”
On Friday night, Crawford’s Patriots (4-0) will host Countryside (4-1) in a critical 7A District 10 match-up. Although the Pinellas Park football team insists it cannot afford to take a loss this week, Crawford has instilled an approach that ensures success, no matter the outcome.
“We don’t put no big season goal together,” Crawford confesses.
“Every game is worth winning, and there’s not enough wins in the world not to enjoy them, so let’s have some fun and play football.”