BRANDON, Fla. — A former Tampa Bay Buccaneer is looking to win another championship, but this time, in a different sport and in a different role.
Martin Gramatica is the head coach of the West Florida Flames under-19 club team.
The Flames are proving that it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
“I don’t know the exact record but we lost a lot of games that we shouldn’t have lost early,” Gramatica told ABC Action News sports anchor Kyle Burger. “It was one of those where I thought about quitting coaching. It was that bad. Nah!”
“We had a rough start, but in the middle of the season after high school season, we got everything out,” midfielder Harold Diaz added. “We were undefeated.”
There’s a reason for the rough start.
“We lost a lot of players, some people just weren’t sure about their last season with soccer,” defenseman Jack Cunningham said. “We had new players every week it felt like. It was a little difficult with chemistry.”
Chemistry on and off the field is the key to soccer for Gramatica. He was the kicker for the 2003 Super Bowl-winning Bucs - a team brought together by head coach Tony Dungy.
“What I try to create is where they love each other off the field more than on the field,” Gramatica said. “That’s something that Coach Dungy taught us. It’s more important to bond off the field than it is on the field. If you create a great bond off the field, it’s going to show on the field.”
“It’s a huge part of sports to have family on and off the field,” striker Nico Gramatica said. “You want to play for your teammates. You want to play for the people you love.”
The Flames will now compete in the National Cup Final in Denver against the best club teams from all over the country. To advance in group play, the defense needs to continue keeping the ball out of the net.
“We went six games without conceding a goal,” Cunningham said. “I think at the point of the year everyone had the motivation to come back and actually want to play.”
The tournament will take place at the home facility of the Colorado Rapids in Denver. The Flames first game is July 17.