The Falcons proved it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish during a Jekyll-and-Hyde 2022 season that culminated in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference 5A Championship. Saint Stephen’s dominated Ocoee Legacy Charter, 47-7, in Lakeland to complete one of the most remarkable turnarounds in program history.

Following a 1-5 start, the Falcons ripped off five consecutive victories to win their third SSAC crown in six years. The transformation began during a week-seven triumph over Fort Myers Gateway Charter. That’s when a sluggish SSES offense was energized by a change in scheme that included a move to the wildcat formation. After averaging just 16.5 points per game over the first six, the Falcons scored more than 32 points per game during their run to the title.

The SSAC crown was the Falcons’ first since 2017 and their first under Head Coach A.J. Brown, who took over the program in 2020. The 2016 and 2017 Saint Stephen’s teams earned back-to- back all-division championships before the league broke its football post-season play into upper and lower classifications. The Falcons have now advanced to the finals five times in the past eight seasons.

It’s not a stretch to say that Saint Stephen’s football has become the standard of excellence that other schools measure themselves against in the SSAC. The Falcons posted a 68-32 record during former head coach Tod Creneti’s nine-season tenure, including an impressive 50-7 mark from 2015-19. Between August 2016 and September 2018, the Falcons won 24 consecutive games. They made four consecutive appearances in the SSAC Florida Bowl (2015-18) and won back-to-back independent state championships in 2016 and 2017. SSES fell one win short of a fifth straight trip to the Florida Bowl in 2019, finishing 9-2.

That run of success was the culmination of a journey that seemed almost unimaginable when the program was re-launched in 2006 after a long hiatus. A steady climb up the ladder of success began with Creneti’s hiring in 2011. After a winless first season, his teams went 68-22, including 11-1 and 11-0 in their back-to-back state title campaigns. The 2019 season ended with a loss to eventual SSAC champion Orlando’s The Master’s Academy in the playoff semifinals. That defeat snapped a 25-game home winning streak for SSES dating back to the opener of the 2016 season.

Despite its brief football history, Saint Stephen’s has also had great success creating opportunities for its student-athletes at the collegiate level. In eight of the past 11 seasons, at least one Falcon has moved on to a NCAA Division I FBS or FCS program: linebacker/tight end Tim Nutter (Furman/2013), linebacker Bradley Beazant (Rice/2014), offensive lineman Wyatt Knopfke (Boston College/2015), long snapper Jacob Westberry (Fresno State/2016), offensive lineman Josh Stevens (Georgetown-Delaware/2017), safety Sydney Brown (Illinois/2018), running back Chase Brown (Western Michigan-Illinois/2018), offensive lineman Dylan Davis (Furman-Illinois/2020), linebacker Cam Vining (Army-UCF/2020), running back D.J. Clark (Stetson/2021) .

Chase and Sydney Brown made school history in 2023 when they became the first former Falcons chosen in the NFL draft – Sydney in the third round by the Philadelphia Eagles and Chase in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals. Saint Stephen’s grad Josh Stevens (Chiefs) and former student Austin Fort (Broncos) have been free-agent invitees to NFL camps.