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Friday Night Football Feature: Serbay has ways to fire up players
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BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
James Monroe football coach Rich Serbay has guided the Yellow Jackets to four Group AA, Division 3 state championships.
The Yellow Jackets narrowly missed a fifth state title when they were defeated 34–33 by Brookville in the championship game last season.
Serbay’s charges have won 20 of their past 21 contests and 11 straight Battlefield District games.
Still, the veteran leader always finds a way to have the Yellow Jackets feeling as if they’ve been disrespected.
The ability to motivate his team with quotes, stories and message board fodder has been a primary reason Serbay has been able to thrive since 1985.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the master motivator,” he said. “But I’d like to play for me.”
This week’s opponent doesn’t require much motivation. The Yellow Jackets (7–0, 4–0 Battlefield) visit Courtland (4–3, 3–1) in a key district clash.
But despite the natural rivalry of two programs that have combined to win eight state championships, Serbay is making sure his players are tuned in.
He’s posted newspaper headlines on the bulletin board stating “Courtland gets sharp for Jackets.”
He’s added posts from vir giniapreps.com and Twitter that praise the Cougars. One paper posted on the board says “Let’s get ready to go to war for 48 minutes at the vaunted Cougar Den.”
Serbay said the tactics are a key part of JM’s success because the Yellow Jackets are an emotional team.
“When it’s a negative thing [written], it accentuates your desire to be successful,” Serbay said. “When it’s a positive thing, it accentuates your desire to be more successful.”
James Monroe has posted comments for every opponent throughout its locker room this season, including winless Culpeper. Before that homecoming matchup last week, Serbay said he found comments from Culpeper’s team said the Blue Devils are glad to face JM after a loss to Courtland and its run-heavy wing–T attack.
“They’re happy to play us, why?” Serbay said. “Are we softer? A coach’s job is to motivate his players to be successful. I want my players hitting on all cylinders when they take the field.”
This week, there are also messages plastered on lockers highlighting Courtland quarterback Eric Washington and wide receiver Chris Carpenter.
One message gives Washington credit for his arm strength, but someone wrote above it that he “doesn’t like to get hit.”
Another message is from an observer stating that after tonight’s game, the Cougars may be in control of the district race.
“It’s like trash talk. It just gets us hyped. It gets us mad, basically,” JM senior defensive lineman Kyle Washington said. “Not mad to fight, but mad to go out there and win.”
James Monroe offensive coordinator Eddie Haynes said the concept of bulletin board material is hardly new.
But Serbay prides himself on taking it to another level. Assistant coaches Jon Phipps and Sammy Serbay are in charge of scouring the Internet for quotes or praise of the opposition. One post that made its way into the hands of the Yellow Jackets simply said not to rule out the Cougars from contention in the Battlefield because they’ve made the Region I, Division 4 championship game two years in a row.
“People need to be quiet on Virginia Preps,” Serbay said with a laugh. “That’s what it boils down to. They need to keep their mouth shut, because they don’t know we scout that for motivational material.”
Serbay also posted the Cougars’ team page from The Free Lance–Star’s preview section. A quote from Courtland coach J.C. Hall that said he’d put the Cougars’ tradition up against any team in the Fredericksburg area was highlighted in green.
“That’s personal with me,” Serbay said. “I think Courtland’s got a great record, 20 something championships in a certain amount of years. Since I’ve been at James Monroe, we’ve won over 20 championships and I’m real proud of that.”
James Monroe’s players and coaches said Serbay’s ploys work. Haynes recalled a 2008 playoff game when an offensive lineman played with a newspaper article that questioned if JM was physical enough up front stuffed in his pants.
He pulled out the article in the team’s huddle at the end of the game, held it in the air and celebrated the victory.
Serbay said it bothers him when people who don’t know his team question it.
“We see stuff people say, but we know what we can do as a team,” senior running back Adrian Boone said. “The difference is we’re not going to say it. We’re just going to go out and do it.”
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526