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Friday Night Prep Football Preview: For Bears, it’s about character
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
When the final bell rings and many high school football teams are set to begin practice, players often trudge around the locker room listening to music as they put on their shoulder pads and helmets.
But before every Riverbend practice, 45 varsity players head straight to a classroom.
And if they’re not inside the door at 2:30 p.m., 10 minutes after dismissal, they’re considered late for their daily character-education course.
Bears first-year coach Tony DeMarco was an assistant at Riverbend when former head coach Drew Seaman used the same approach.
He’s brought it back this year.
DeMarco said the goal isn’t for the 15-minute class to translate to victories on the field.
But Riverbend (2–1, 1–0 Commonwealth District) has already matched last season’s win total as it prepares to host Mountain View (2–1, 0–1) in a Commonwealth clash tonight.
“I believe in three-dimensional athletes,” DeMarco said. “A lot of coaches worry about the mental and the physical, but a chair needs three legs to stand on or it’s going to fall. The same goes with these guys. They need the mental, physical and spiritual.”
Every Riverbend player has a workbook titled “Changing Lives.” Also, Battlefield Area Fellowship of Christian Athletes director Kerry O’Neill visits the team regularly.
On Thursday, DeMarco asked his players to name three specific things they can do to become better students.
The Bears also have a “Gratitude” session in every class. Thursday, each player was asked to say something they appreciate about assistant coach Anthony Naccarato. One player said Naccarato provided rides to practice for him during the offseason.
“We don’t always use people,” DeMarco said of Gratitude. “Sometimes it’s things like pain. ‘What are you grateful for about pain? Initially everybody was like ‘I’m not grateful for pain.’ But when you think about it deeply, you start realizing ‘It lets me know when I’m injured. It lets me know how far I can push my body.’ They don’t take time to think about things like that. This makes them think deeply about it.”
On Wednesday, the Bears placed backup Jason Rainey in a chair in front of the classroom and showered him with praise.
Rainey’s teammates told him they love that he never gives up and no matter where he is on the depth chart he comes to practice every day and works hard.
“When you speak blessings onto people, it builds them up,” DeMarco said. “That’s what we’re trying to do—build these guys up.”
Players said the approach is working. Senior tight end Jamie Deason said the Bears are more tight-knit than ever.
Deason said former Massaponax assistant coach Jeff Drugatz, who is now the Bears’ defensive coordinator, has brought a “swagger” to the team.
“The attitude this year is entirely different,” said Deason, who also plays linebacker. “We’re coming together more as a team. Last year we were a bunch of individuals. This year we realize we can actually do something and stir up the Commonwealth.”
DeMarco said that might be premature. He said the Bears are thrilled to have won their last two games, but “we haven’t arrived yet.”
He said if the Bears don’t play to their full potential tonight, the Wildcats will beat them by 40 points and “embarrass us at home.”
DeMarco wants to model his program after Mountain View. The Wildcats opened in 2005, one year after Riverbend. They struggled initially, but have reached the Northwest Region, Division 5 playoffs two straight seasons.
“The makeup they have there is very similar to our makeup,” DeMarco said. “There’s no reason we can’t be Mountain View. We’ll never be a Brooke Point, Colonial Forge or Massaponax because of our makeup.”
Still, regardless of how far the Bears make it, their players are thankful DeMarco has installed the character class. They said the short time it takes will prepare them for life better than a few extra minutes to lounge around.
“We’re all coming together as a team, sharing our thoughts and objectives,” senior running back/linebacker Eddie Reyes said of the class. “It helps us all-around. It’s not just football. It’s bigger than football.”
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526