Standing at my kitchen counter on a nice spring evening the stunned radio announcer told the local audience that I would be the new head coach over some more “accomplished” candidates. I immediately called out of work for the next day, woke up with little sleep, and pounced the new hallways with a visitor sticker on my shirt.
As the new head coach at Central Regional High School in Bayville New Jersey I had to be aggressive in getting kids to come out for a program that was the joke of the school, but mind you in just three exhausting step-on-the-toes-of-anyone-in-my-way seasons we would be in the state finals.
Brian was a skinny sophomore receiver with spidery arms and legs and loads of athleticism, but his ability to run and catch was suffering under the inhibitions of a severe lack of confidence and indecision about his future as a football player. The last thing that Brian wanted to do was continue to play high school football after a dismal freshman season.
One day I saw Brian in the back of what I thought was an empty classroom, I waved and he reluctantly waved back, so I poked my head in to see that in the front of the room was the cross country coach recruiting him. The cozy pastels of the woods of the upcoming sophomore fall cross country waltz would fit his comfort zone quite nicely.
Brian squirmed when I asked the coach about talking to a football player. The coach told me that he felt that Brian had a future in the sport, so I smiled and politely said “Ok coach, see you soon Brian”. Comfort zones are for boys, not men.
I approached Brian a day later and told him that I would be his biggest cross country fan ever after he gave football a chance, just until the first scrimmage next fall. He agreed timidly and I doubted him. I had asked him to resolve to at least that, as difficult as it was, and that the difficulty would result in some level of triumph, in fact the degree of the difficulty would be commensurate with the exhilaration, this seemed to intrigue him.
If there is one major deficiency in our youth today it is a lack of “Resolve”. It is the gas in the tank. Without it no matter how sleek and whatever the potential of a machine or athlete, where there is no fuel, there is no action. “Resolve” is inside all of us.
As coaches I think we can ALL relate that our athletes live in a culture that is less competitive, is complacent, and is far more likely to lay down excuses and explanations for their “shortcomings” if in fact they are even seen as such.
The pre-season began with my posting and presenting what would become a great tradition for us over the next thirteen years, the famous hand painted “WE WILL” sign. The players would tap it every time they walked through the locker room door, in or out. I recall a player driving back to school after remembering that he “forgot” to tap it. The message was that our resolve would “will us” great things. We found it “inside”.
In our first scrimmage, Brian’s possible farewell to football, I put the young sophomore in at wide receiver against a bunch of stud athletes up in Teaneck, 60 miles away near the New York border. I called for a streak pattern to him and prayed hard. He caught his varsity pass in the end zone. I never had to say another word to him.
Two years later in his senior all star season, Brian gave us a conference championship with a circus catch that would put us into the state final, one of the best football games in the history of the state.
He is the track coach at Monmouth University now. He gave me a T-shirt recently. On the back in bold letters it says “WE WILL”. He is living a life of resolve. He is living.
By Dan Duddy
Head Football Coach NJ