TAMPA, Fla. - The Freedom Patriots stuck together, even when it seemed like they had no direction.
Weeks before summer workouts were set to begin, they were left without a coach. Seniors, like Tyler Paton, didn't take the news well.
"It's sort of painful when you want to work as hard as you can, but you can't because you don't have a head coach to guide you or have a place for you to work," said the defensive end and quarterback.
Tyler said his teammate, Hussien Hafiz started coordinating practices on his own.
"We just said that, if we have nobody to help us out, we have to help ourselves out," said Hafiz, a senior linebacker. "It's one of those things where we're being tested."
For most of July, they practiced together, on their own, without word of a new head coach.
"We'd go out for about two hours a day, get some work in, some position work in, everybody would do their own type of thing," said Hafiz. "Then we'd work together, one-on-ones, stuff like that."
By the end of the month, Freedom named Chris Short as the team's new head coach, who was no stranger to the players. He's been on staff for the last six seasons but had to let the process play out while a new coach was selected.
"Oh, it killed me," he said. "It really hurt to not be able to get in and work out with them."
Because of how they led themselves in the midst of the unknown, Short walked in knowing his players wanted something more than just wearing the jersey Friday nights.
"That's what every coach wants," said Short. "Especially when you can't physically be there. You want the kids to come together and do something on their own. That's where leaders are born."
These Patriots formed a sense of unity that will remain unbroken.
"I don't think there's any team that I will ever be on or have been on, that had a stronger bond than these players here," said Paton.
Loyal to Freedom football, these Patriots never gave up. Without a leader, they took charge and paved their own way.