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December 28, 2012

Family first - Football last

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As we come to a close in the year, it's time to take a look back at the landscape of high school football and see the '12 biggest stories' that shaped our season. Here are stories 8 and 7

No. 8 - There are more important things than football

One of the favorites in 8A after the football season ended in 2011 - had to be the Deland Bulldogs.

With talent galore coming back, and a stable coaching staff, Deland appeared to have it all.

Until Ryan Smith stepped down in mid April.

Smith stepped down and took the job at Taylor County. Now, some would wonder why he would leave an 8A program with D-1 talent coming out of the woodwork and a great environment - but Smith doesn't care about all that.

He cares about his family - and his autistic son.

His son responded very well to his grandmother - who lived near Perry. Turns out the Taylor County job was open and Smith didn't think twice.

"My family life comes first," Smith told FlaVarsity. "I have a son with autism and my family is from Perry. I'm moving back to Perry."

"Its a rough deal for just my wife to handle our son during football season," Smith said. "I'm just trying to get back to my extended family for the support and help."

We asked coach Smith, who took the Bulldogs to the post-season in his first year - how his son was doing recently - and he said "very well, he loves it here and he's happy."

And the support network has made coaching football a secondary thing for Ryan Smith - as it should be.

Read about Smith's decision to step down by clicking here

No. 7 - There are more important things than football - part II

Another Ryan - Ryan Keith - has a different battle.

Keith, the head coach of Class 2A Eagle's View Academy, is the throes of ALS - Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis - commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

A champion weightlifter and bodybuilder, Keith has a hard time getting dressed, and cannot stand for very long.

His mind is as sharp as a tack, but his body has slowly degenerated to a point where he can barely walk.

Yet still, he coaches.

And the kids listen and respond.

Eagle's View made the post-season this year, without junior QB D.J. Gillins - who was injured early in the season.

They made it on heart and determination.

And the players had to look no further than the 33 year-old coach who has not missed one day of practice.

"It's not going to change my circumstances. It's who I am and there's nothing I can do about it," Keith told FlaVarsity in March. "I just have to figure out a way to be productive and help out in this process.

Earlier in the year, his soulmate and helper - Katie Keith, suffered a ruptured appendix. Like her husband, she battled on. Never complained.

At this publishing, Keith is still fighting every day. Going to school, working out the kids and watching. He watches more from a chair because his body is simply not strong enough. His voice is fading and his neck isn't strong enough to hold up his head for very long.

But he knows that God has a plan and that God will bring glory through this struggle.

That's what makes this story Number 7.

To read more about Ryan Keith and Lou Gerhig's Disease - Click Here



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