Breathing New Life into Football at The First Academy

Coach Jeff Conaway holding a football, standing in the middle of the TFA football field.

Recognizing Your Calling

Tackle people? Check. Run the football? Check. From his humble beginnings playing backyard football, Jeff Conaway realized early on that he loved the game. But at the time, he couldn’t have fathomed pursuing it as a career field. His eyes were set on becoming a pharmacist. But as many of us figure out, sometimes what we think we want to be and who we are uniquely positioned to be are completely different. 

It wasn’t until college at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas that he discovered his true calling. 

“When I went to college and started taking those classes, I realized that maybe being a pharmacist wasn’t the best choice,” Conaway shared as he explained his standing passion for athletics, youth, and the gospel message. “So, they say what you can’t play, you coach, and I knew I wanted to be around young people. So, it was a great fit for me as a freshman in college.”

The rest is history.

A Two-Decade Football Career Bearing Fruit

Twenty years later, he continues to make an impact as the Varsity Head Coach and Associate Athletics Director for The First Academy (TFA). A strong journey starting at Shiloh Christian in Arkansas has made Conaway eager to build upon the existing structure at TFA.  

Serving 13 years at Shiloh as a football coach and athletics director, Conaway is all about taking things to the next level. Under his leadership, Shiloh had an impressive performance with four straight championship game appearances, a 99-27 overall record and a 12-2 record last season. 

Highlighting that TFA and Shiloh are similar in their belief in excellence and the gospel, Conaway says the sky is the limit. 

“There are some things that we can do very quickly to elevate the atmosphere and the culture,” he said. “This TFA football team isn’t broken; it just needs to be taken to the next level or two.”

Football Philosophy, Culture, Spirituality 

That spirit of excellence drives Conaway’s four-pillar coaching philosophy: developing champions spiritually, academically, socially, and athletically. 

“We want to be elite in those four areas,” he stated. “If we can teach it, and they can buy into those things, they’ll see improvement. That’s how you gain momentum.”

Building momentum will take time, especially as Conaway adjusts to Florida’s distinctive football culture and the team adjusts to a new language of football under his leadership. Conway says he is praying for patience as he and the team embark on the journey ahead. 

“I think even the Florida and the TFA football culture can become even more exciting,” Conaway said. “I think the biggest challenge is whether we can generate enough momentum and enough small victories to be patient until we get to where we’re highly efficient.”

Patience and support from the community are equally important. He explains how the vision is to rally the community to visit TFA and make it an exciting experience where the football program takes care of its community. And while he plans to rely on his coaching staff and community to reach the goal, Conway’s primary guide will remain his spirituality.

“When I try to be a Christ follower and allow the Holy Spirit to live in me and through me, things are much easier,” he said, reflecting on his biggest lesson as a coach.

Full-Field Commitment 

Once football season ends, Conaway will transition full-time into his dual role as associate athletic director. As a former athletic director, he looks forward to working with Will Cohen, TFA’s athletic director, to fulfill the mission of TFA’s athletic department through “competition in interscholastic sports, by implementing Biblical principles in our instruction, and by setting Godly examples.” 

“We’re all in it together,” said Conaway regarding his family including his wife Melissa, daughters Landry and Ayla, and his son Jones. “The Conaway family is very excited about being in Orlando, excited about being at TFA, and we can’t wait to turn this into one of the most exciting football programs in the state of Florida.”

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Written by Alexis George

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