John Sprague's Rams are two wins away from the state championship
With one month left in the NFL regular season, the playoff picture is becoming clearer every week, and both teams and individuals are closing in on significant milestones. The same is also true for Sarasota-Riverview High School and its head coach, John Sprague.
Sarasota-Riverview's Rams are in the 5A Final Four after they defeated Sarasota High School 23-0 last week, and that win put Sprague on the verge of his 200th career victory. On Wednesday, in honor of both achievements, Sprague was named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers "High School Coach of the Week." Along with his assistant coaches, Sprague watched practice and toured the Buccaneers' training facility before receiving his award.
"It's always nice to come up here," said Sprague. "What the Buccaneers do by recognizing high school programs and giving a donation to the schools' athletic programs is wonderful. Recognizing the efforts of these programs and coaches is such a great thing."
Since becoming head coach of the Rams 24 years ago, Sprague has posted an impressive 198-68 record. He has led Sarasota-Riverview to nine District Championships, four Regional Championships and two State Runner-Ups. Sprague has also been named Nike's Coach of the Year twice and the FHSAA Coach of the Year three times.
Since he has been a part of the greater Tampa community for such a long period of time, Coach Sprague has established relationships at all levels of the football world. His program consistently produces top-flight talent. When Buccaneer Head Coach Jon Gruden was an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh many years ago, he was one of the many college recruiters who sought to sign Sprague's players. After practice on Wednesday, Gruden and Sprague had a chance to catch up on old times.
"I remember when (Coach Gruden) recruited some of our players when he was at the University of Pittsburgh," said Sprague. "Coming here and seeing some familiar faces is great - it beats the heck out of sitting in class."
Wednesday's ceremony was equally enjoyable for Gruden.
"He's a great coach," said Gruden. "The reason they're in the Final Four is largely because of him. If you've ever seen this guy on a practice field you know what I'm talking about. This guy's got 198 wins, two shy of 200. He couldn't help me get some of the better players that he had, but I did get a couple pretty good players. I've got a lot of respect for high school football down here, especially the programs that are perennially on top of the heap. Sarasota Riverview, man, you've got to watch out when you're talking about them.
"I was a young guy at the time, real young, and he took time for me. He taught me some football, taught me a few drills and gave me an opportunity to recruit some of his players. It's important to try to get a network going when you're a young guy trying to recruit."
Sprague was presented with a framed "Coach of the Week" award signed by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen and Gruden. He also received football autographed by Gruden. In addition, a $1,000 donation to his football program will be awarded.
If you know a coach that you feel is deserving of being the Buccaneers "Coach of the Week" please click here and submit his or her name, school, county and reason he or she should be selected.
Several factors are taken into account when selecting the Buccaneers Coach of the Week recipient, including the coach's impact on his team, school and community. The program is designed to recognize high school coaches who transform, through their hard work and dedication to young people, the best available athletes into high-potential football players.
All schools in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota are eligible regardless of size, league or division.