Coaching on the field he once played on will be a “surreal” experience for Flagler Palm Coast’s Robert Paxia. For Mainland’s Travis Roland, the surroundings will be quite familiar.
Due to a quirky twist of fate, the two teams will open the football season Friday, Sept. 3, at FPC’s Sal Campanella Memorial Stadium. This was supposed to be the second game of the season for both schools, but their openers were postponed because of COVID-19 issues with their opponents.
So Paxia will make his debut at his alma mater in a very tough game against the coach he replaced. And Roland will make his debut for his own alma mater against the school that gave him his first head coaching opportunity.
“FPC was an amazing place,” Roland said. “I would not have been able to get this job if (FPC athletic director) Steve DeAugustino and (former principal) Dusty Sims didn’t give me that chance. I’m beyond grateful for that. FPC will ever and ever and ever hold a special place in my heart.”
Paxia, meanwhile, considers himself a Bulldog for life. The former offensive lineman and state weightlifting champ graduated from FPC in 2008 and returned to the school a year later to begin his coaching career. After four seasons as an assistant with the Bulldogs, his coaching odyssey took him to five schools in eight years before coming home.
“In our team meeting room you look up and it says FPC and it kind of hits you,” he said. “It will be surreal being back on the field. The last time I worked here I never called a game on the field, I was always up in the (coaches’) box. It will be fun being on the field. Even against Seabreeze (in a referees’ scrimmage Aug. 14), I thought, ‘Wow, this is an eerie feeling.’ I’m definitely excited to be back.”
But once the whistle sounds, it will be all business, he said. This is a game that should live up to the hype.
Mainland, the premier program in the Volusia-Flagler area, comes into the season having made the playoffs 27 consecutive years. The Bucs won the state championship in 2003 when Roland was a team captain.
FPC, meanwhile, has advanced to the playoffs four years in a row under Roland. Although two former Bulldogs – Jared Lloyd and Kenton Rickerson – transferred to Mainland and will be on the other sideline in this game, Roland said the Bulldogs are not much different than last year.
“They have the same kids. It’s another good football team,” he said.
The Bucs and Bulldogs have not met since 2016, making this a big game no matter which coaches are on the sidelines, Paxia said.
“Regardless if Coach Roland was there or not we’d be excited about playing Mainland,” he said. “Mainland is a measuring stick in the area, perennially one of the best teams in the state of Florida year in and year out. But yeah, our kids are excited about playing Coach Roland.”
Roland said the key to the game will be controlling the line of scrimmage.
“The best part of their team is their offensive line, so that will be a challenge for us,” he said.
The Bullodgs will try to contain the Bucs’ athleticism.
“They’re big and fast and they’re going to run and hit you,” Paxia said. “They look like Mainland.”