Kendrick Stewart didn’t plan to go into coaching.
But once he was bit by the coaching bug, the former Florida State defensive lineman was hooked. Soon after graduation, Stewart began coaching at his alma mater, Lakeland High, as a jayvee coach and substitute teacher.
“I really started to find my passion and love to give back to the community that helped me as well,” Stewart said. “When I was playing for Florida State, I didn’t think I would be a coach. It kind of grew on me. Once I got back in and saw some kids were just like me, I got passionate about it.”
Passionate, dedicated and successful. In his third season as a head coach, Stewart is bringing Lakeland Victory Christian to Tallahassee on Thursday to play in the Class 2A state championship game. Victory Christian will play Hialeah Champagnat Catholic.
Victory Christian knocked off Jacksonville University Christian last week to reach the title game, which will be held at Gene Cox Stadium on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Stewart, who had 49 tackles and two sacks from 2005-09 at FSU, has helped the Victory Christian program grow. His philosophies are in part those of Bill Castle, the longtime Lakeland High coach. When he instructs defensive linemen, the voice of Odell Haggins is in his head. And when he speaks of his faith, lessons taught by Bobby Bowden come to mind.
“The biggest thing for me is just finding that challenge to just help everyone,” Stewart said. “Every kid’s not going to be the same.”
It also helps that Stewart is just over a decade older than his high school seniors. He can relate well. He grew up in the same city, played college football and is often viewed as a big brother.
“I think it’s a good fit to be close in age, but they respect you enough,” Stewart said. “They can lean on you and kind of learn some different things about life. Some of the things that I didn’t know growing up I was able to share with them. I think it’s great to help walk them along the process as well.”
Stewart said he is happy with the success of the program. But he wanted to show people that he’s not all about winning. Along the way he has been able to help shape the lives of young men, too.
“This is much more than football,” Stewart said. “Just being able to dig into these kids’ lives. What I truly enjoy the most now is giving them some foundation, some faith-based foundation is another key aspect.”
State title games at Gene Cox Stadium
Thursday: Hialeah Champagnat vs. Lakeland Victory Christian, 7 p.m.
Friday: Tallahassee Florida High vs. Hollywood Chaminade Madonna, 7 p.m.
Saturday: Blountstown vs. Madison County, 7 p.m. (OL Zane Herring from Madison is a 2020 FSU commitment)
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