Randy Hippeard stands behind his offense as another Tampa Bay Storm practice session winds down, watching from afar while it quickly runs through a passing play with backup quarterback Chris Bonner under center.
As Bonner takes the snap and flings the ball downfield, it carries past the outstretched hands of receiver Kendrick Ings, falling onto the turf below for an incompletion. Not a moment after the play is signaled dead, Ings retreats toward the line of scrimmage, yelling to Hippeard.
“Hip, did you see that?” Ings shouts to the veteran signal-caller, who walks over for a quick chat.
The two exchange words, going through what Hippeard saw during the drill. Ings listens closely, nodding as Hippeard -- dressed in a blue practice jersey and white sweatpants -- re-buckles his chinstrap to resume his duties as Tampa Bay’s starter.
“He’s consistent,” Ings said. “He’s got a big heart. I have no problem being a player coming behind him, learning from him. Just anything he tells me, I trust it.”
That is the Hippeard way: Always coaching, always teaching, and darn near always winning.
“He’s a leader,” Storm head coach Ron James said. "He’s a guy that not only the team looks to, but as a coach, I look to him in certain situations to be able to be calm under pressure. And he’s been just that.”
In more ways than one, Hippeard has carried the load for the resurgent Storm this season as the collected voice on offense.
There is no better example than when 31-year-old former Virginia-Wise standout led Tampa Bay to consecutive thrilling victories over Cleveland and Baltimore in Weeks 3 and 5, respectively. In both, it took a touchdown drive in the waning seconds by Hippeard to lift the Storm to a win and avoid early-season heartbreak..
“At this position, a lot of eyes are on you,” Hippeard said. “On any given day, you’ve got to go out there and give everything you have for the people around you. Not just yourself or your family, but for the fans and, especially, the players that are in that huddle with you. I’m the type of guy where any time I step across the field -- banged up or not -- I’m going a hundred percent.
“There is no slowdown button once you step on the field.”
It is a mindset that has trickled down from the top for the Storm, leading to their on-field success at 7-2 entering Saturday’s fourth meeting with the Valor (1-8). In Tampa Bay’s last game against Washington on June 10 at AMALIE Arena -- a 58-57 triumph -- Hippeard suited up and played well, throwing for seven touchdowns despite missing nearly all of practice that week with an injury.
For his teammates, the gutsy effort was hardly a surprise.
“We understand that if he dresses,” Ings said, “we’re going to get A-1 Hip -- the best he can give us. He’s going to give it to us every play and he’s going to do anything he can do to get us a win.”
Hippeard has learned a lot since his initial two-year stint with the Storm, when he lost all four games he started in 2013. Following two seasons with the Orlando Predators, he has returned to Tampa Bay as a more polished player who understands what it takes to be a winner in the competitive league.
So far, it has shown with the Storm already locked in to the postseason. If there is one person the Storm can point to as arguably its biggest the reason for that, it is the man donning No. 12
“A lot of us came from these teams where we did have success outside of Tampa,” Hippeard said. “So just bringing everybody together, it’s one of those things where we were trying to change the atmosphere.
“Winning becomes a habit just like losing becomes a habit. We had to change the habit of this franchise, and I think we’ve done a good job of that.”
That is just the Hippeard way.