As lifelong friends, Derek Smith and Kevin Mays have done just about everything together.
As kids, they played sports together. They hung out together, and yes, they eventually coached together on three different staffs.
But there is one thing Smith and Mays have never done… until tonight.
When the Viera Hawks visit the Baker County Wildcats Friday night at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Macclenny, it will mark the first time the two close friends have coached against each other.
“I think it’s pretty fun,” Smith said earlier this week. “It’s an opportunity. We’ve both been on the same staff. He was the head coach (at Viera) and I was the assistant. I was a head coach (at Bayside) and he was my assistant. We were both on the same staff at Palm Bay High.
“We’re very similar in all of our philosophies and ideas. It’s just a fun opportunity to coach against somebody you respect and like and admire. I hope he feels the same vice versa.”
Mays, who turned Viera from a Brevard County laughingstock to one of its top programs during his seven years as head coach of the Hawks, certainly feels the same way.
But make no mistake about it, there will be some bragging rights at stake tonight.
“To me, I’m going to do my best not to get nervous or anxious about it, but … me and Derek grew up with each other since we were in the sixth grade, and it didn’t matter what we were doing, we wanted to beat each other,” Mays said.
“Going into this game, same thing. There’s an added pressure that I want to be able to beat him, just like he’s going to sit there and tell you he wants to beat me.”
The two friends met for the first time when they were on the same recreational league all-star basketball team in either the fourth or fifth grade (Smith couldn’t remember).
They attended Stone Middle School and Palm Bay High together and even went to Chowan University as freshmen. During that time, they played football, baseball and basketball together.
“We just kind of hit it off and obviously stayed tight,” Mays said. “We were kind of like the running buddies in high school. We did everything together. He’d be at my house and I’d be at his house.”
After working together as assistants on Dan Burke’s Palm Bay High football team that won two state championships, Smith became head coach at Bayside and Mays was his assistant head coach/offensive coordinator.
Mays became the head coach at Viera in 2011 and went 3-7 in his first season. Those three wins were the most in school history at the time.
Smith joined the Hawks in 2013 and in 2015, Viera played for the Class 7A state championship.
Mays compiled a record of 50-27 before leaving Viera after the 2017 season to become athletic director at Tohopokeliga High in Osceola County. From there, he went to Baker County, where he is now in his third season and coming off a Class 5A regional final appearance.
Not only are Smith and Mays close, but so are their families. In fact, the only thing missing from tonight’s game is the fact that the coach’s sons won’t be facing each other.
Austin Smith, a senior linebacker, is at least a week away from re-joining the team after tearing his ACL during lacrosse.
Blake Mays is a junior wide receiver for the Wildcats.
When they’re not coaching against each other, Derek and Kevin Mays talk often. But it doesn’t end there.
Kevin Mays is also close to a number of Viera High assistants who have been the program dating back to their days of working together.
“It will be fun,” Mays said. “Obviously, (Mike) Degory was with me. (DeMarkulus) Menyfield was with me. Shane Staples was with me. (Dave) Cooley was with me. And then, obviously, Derek was with me.
“We put a lot of time in. Those guys are all still really close friends to me. We talk, if not once a week, maybe even more. It will be a fun game. There will be some different feelings in this one compared to just any other game.”
Because the coaches know each other so well and have shared philosophies, it will be interesting to see how tonight’s game plays out.
Will they be calling out each other’s plays, or at least have a good idea of what’s coming?
“You would like to think so,” Mays said. “I was there long enough and know what he does on defense. He knows what I do on offense. I think both of us will try to have a wrinkle that the other doesn’t know. But I think for the most part, we know what we’re going up against.
“It’s going to come down to whose kids perform better.”
For his part, Smith said, “It’s going to be a real good chess match.”
Whomever gets the bragging rights tonight will have them for at least a year. The teams are scheduled to meet in 2022 in Viera.
For Hawks fans making the drive to Baker County tonight, Mays said they will be in for a unique experience, like something out of the “Friday Night Lights” TV show.
Not only does the Baker County booster club set up a big tent … almost like a tailgate … but the entire town essentially shuts down as the team receives a police escort from the school to the stadium, which is located in the center of Macclenny.
“It’s a neat game-day experience,” Mays said. “There’s nothing in Brevard that’s close to it.”