TAMPA, Fla. - A beloved football coach at Tampa's Leto High School died unexpectedly over the weekend at only 28 years old. Now his team, students, family, and friends are trying to come to terms with losing someone so special.
Patrick Kronk took over the winless Leto High football team mid-season, when morale was low.
"He changed the team, 180 degrees," said Enrique Chamberlain, a 17-year-old junior at Leto. "He just brought an energy to the whole team that wasn't there before."
Kronk grew up in Land O' Lakes and played as an offensive lineman in high school there. He was 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds. Injuries prevented him from playing in college, but he found his calling - connecting with kids.
"He was this larger than life big teddy bear of a man," said Larissa McCoy, principal at Leto High School. "We watched him in front of a class full of kids that he had never met before and the connection he made with those kids is what ultimately made us choose him."
McCoy delivered the shocking news to students Tuesday morning. She says there were tears and disappointment.
Kronk made a difference at this school in a very short time. The team didn't win, but he reached the players with a positive message.
"Even if we lost, he would still be there for us," said freshman receiver Ronald Soto. "He would give us a big hug and just support us through the whole thing."
McCoy said he was a father figure to players whose fathers aren't around.
"He led with love and everything he did was with love. And he was this great big hugger," she said.
Robert Spann was ultimately awarded the permanent head coaching position because of previous coaching experience. The two worked together and Kronk was staying on as an assistant.
"I love him and he will be a consistent force in our program for years to come," said Spann.
Kronk died early Sunday. His father told FOX 13 that Patrick suffered from hypertension.
A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday at Harvester Community Church at 5 p.m. In lieu of flowers, his family has asked that donations be made to the Leto High School Football Team.