LAKEWOOD RANCH — Jeff Neuzil approaches every practice as if he were 13 years old.
Even though he has more game-time experience than the 11 players he’s lining up against, Neuzil isn’t one to draw attention.
From the moment he steps out onto the field, the Lakewood Ranch resident and PAL Raiders defensive coordinator becomes just another player on the field.
Rather than challenging his players to routinely beat him off the block, Neuzil is coaching alongside his players — a strategy that has paid off with three Super Bowl victories in four years.
“I’m just one of them,” Neuzil says. “I’ve been able to gel with the kids, and I’ve gotten a lot of respect because of it.”
Neuzil began coaching with head coach and offensive coordinator Tim Weisman about four years ago when their sons, Ryan Neuzil and Grant Weisman, were playing youth football together.
Having played football from the time he was in second grade until he graduated from college, Weisman, who also has been a high school football official since 1983, jumped at the opportunity to coach his son’s team when his son was 8 years old.
“I like yelling at little kids,” Weisman says with a laugh. “I always was harder on my own son then I am on these kids. I figure if you’re going to pick on someone else’s kid, then your own kid better get his share.
“They think they’ve got it rough, but they should see what our kids went through when they were on the team,” Weisman says.
Neuzil joined Weisman, with whom he previously coached youth baseball, on the sidelines three years later after leaving the East Manatee Bulldogs organization.
Neuzil and Weisman coached their sons together for two seasons before watching them move on to the high school ranks.
“I miss PAL,” Grant Weisman says. “I think about it all the time. I tolerated having my dad as a coach. He was always harder on me than everyone else, as he should be.”
“They expect a lot more out of us,” Ryan Neuzil says.
At the time, the fathers didn’t plan to continue coaching, but, after learning the team wouldn’t have a coach, Neuzil and Weisman decided to stick together for at least another year.
“We’re like orphan dads,” Weisman says.
The two coaches bring a tough-love mentality to every practice while recognizing the importance of teamwork, passion and intensity and, above all, having fun.
“We don’t have a lot of talent in terms of one dominating kid, but they play so well together,” Neuzil says. “It’s all about playing time at the early level. I always tell the kids, ‘You can’t get better sitting on the bench.’
“I try not to get attached, but if they score, then I’m the first one out on the field,” Neuzil says. “I’ve gotten a lot of respect. It’s been really good.”
Three weeks ago Neuzil and Weisman began their second season coaching without their sons. The Raiders, who won the varsity Super Bowl last year, put up 86 points and posted a pair of shutouts in their first two games of the season.
Eventually, the time will come for Weisman and Neuzil to hang up their coaching caps and focus solely on their main role as dads.
“I know I’m going to miss it,” Weisman says. “They’re fun. I probably treat them older than they are; and I’m probably tougher on them than an 8-, 9- or 10-year-old deserves, but they are out here having fun. The Raiders experience in general — I have a lot of fond memories.”
Weisman anticipates this will be their last season coaching.
Or will it?
“That’s what he said last year,” Neuzil says. “We don’t really know.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].