Your Program as a Mirror of your Personality

As written for now closed Football & Coffee…

I’ve always been told that the key to building a successful football program, at any level, is to get the program to mirror your personality as the head football coach. At a school like Cornerstone Charter Academy, it’s been tough to change the culture and reconstruct what was built in the two years before my arrival as an assistant, and the months of service as an assistant without much say in the culture of the program.

I was hired to teach and coach at CCA in April of 2001 and was told it was to be the head coach. I went to the spring game that May to see what I would become a part and what would become an extension of my personality. I saw a team that didn’t know how to do the job at hand. I watched a sideline in panic; coaches (at least I think they were coaches) arguing and yelling at each other and their young, confused players. Kids running on and off the field and timeouts wasted. I saw the Ducks defeat one team 8-6 in a half and get dominated 0-28 in another half versus a more established program.

When I walked into the locker room in early June of 2011 I saw disaster. The players came back from that jamboree only to have trashed the locker room. The uniforms were sopping wet with jerseys sitting inside shoulder pads, soft pads inside of pants, food wrappers and Gatorade bottles thrown everywhere. The carpet (yes, they carpeted the locker room and weight room) was filthy and there were hardly enough lockers to even call it a locker room. In the back was an inoperable sink clogged with trash. The room was a cesspool of mold and roaches. Then they hired a new head coach and told me I was an assistant, and very little changed.

The clock had been set back on my rebuilding project until May of 2012. That fall the program had only played five games, had to forfeit a sixth and saw their fifth head coaching change in two years when I took over the helm. I immediately started fundraising and acquiring donations to build a weight room. We fundraised again and bought new uniforms, uniforms that actually fit, had eligible numbers, and were the right colors. We started an off-season program that was designed to build teamwork and closeness in the program, both between the coaches and player and the players and each other.

The 2012 season saw massive turnover from the previous seasons with regards to players and coaches. From the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2012, only five players returned. From the spring of 2012 to the fall of 2012, only eight players returned. We had a roster built of seventeen student-athletes but the push had been made. If you wanted to be selfish, if you wanted to make bad grades, if you wanted to get in trouble on or off campus- you needed to play a different sport at Cornerstone.

With every week the weight lifting sessions and field work sessions became more and more grueling. It was not the spring of 2013 and the roster had built itself up from seventeen with only one senior to thirty with nine seniors. In an attempt to help some of the more wayward youths on campus, I decided to let some of the poor academics and poor discipline kids into the program. We opened our doors to them and they did exactly what you would expect- they became a cancer. I punished them with OSI (Opportunity for Self Improvement) runs, by taking away playing time, and even by suspending them for a game or games.

The Ducks finished 5-5, which was the school’s most successful boys sports season to date, but it was filled with headaches for the coaching staff. The inmates attempted to run the asylum and failed to overthrow the coaching staff. This saw the troublesome players depart, and the high character players stick with the program.

The spring of 2014 would be about rebuilding and realigning our priorities. I wanted a program that resembled my personality and I lost focus on that in 2013. During the spring of 2014, the off-season program hit another intense level and players were throwing up during lifting sessions after we took on a new focus which moved away from the traditional percentages and reps for a more athletic timed system that resembled Crossfit more than power lifting.

Our team GPA climbed up to 3.4 unweighted, with twelve student-athletes earning over a 4.0 weighted. We had more AP and Duel Enrollment students than ever before and did not have a single referral written on a football player the entire season. The class and character had increased as well and the faculty and administration have praised the quality of young man that is involved in the football program. We finished the 2014 season 2-8 but it was one of the most enjoyable seasons I have had in twelve years of coaching high school football.

Our players now clean up the locker room and weight room on a weekly basis, many volunteering for the duty. Our uniforms are beautiful and well taken care of by our boys, and our kids are in charge of keeping their equipment organized, their lockers (we have fifty for thirty five kids) clean and sanitized and their home field looking beautiful.

I believe that the program is well on its way to resembling its coach. We’re hard working, smart, and scrappy but honorable. The 2015 season will be driven by a group of thirty-plus studentathletes that may not play college football, but will definitely be college bound students and productive members of society. For years I wanted to be a head coach so that I could instill my ethics and values into a program. We now have a program to be proud of- whether in the classroom, on the streets, in the weight room or on the field.

Dottavio.

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