Football is the ultimate team game. Whether it’s offense, defense, or special teams, every player on the field knows if he doesn’t do his job to the best of his ability, it will hinder his teammates’ ability to do theirs.
But football players aren’t just held accountable on the field — they’re held accountable off it, too.
The goal is to teach life lessons that will help them become better adults.
“I think all the coaches want to make sure that’s happening,” Fall River athletic director Cody Schultz said. “I spend a lot of time talking about standards vs. goals. It’s our goal that we win a state championship. It’s our goal we go out there and win every game. But it’s a standard that kids are learning life lessons. It’s a standard that kids are working hard and it’s beneficial for them to be here. It’s a standard that it’s a safe environment for them.
“People always talk about, ‘You’ve got to raise your goals.’ No — raise your standards, because then you have no choice but to meet (them).”
A Phrase preached by coaches, practiced by teams
The Beaver Dam prep football team has faced its own set of adversity.
The Golden Beavers haven’t had an ideal practice situation with all the construction at the high school to start the year, and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011.
But BD uses a catchphrase “Ring the Bell” to motivate the players to live up to the challenge.
Head coach Steve Kuenzi described the phrase as a boxing reference where the athlete is in the center of the ring with an opponent ready to hit you, which can easily be translated to football.
“Are you ready to take on the challenge that’s come in front of you?” he asked.
“It’s not just in football. Even in the classroom, when the bell rings in first hour and you have a test that day, are you ready for the test?”
Roll the dice
At the beginning of the season, Fall River coaches noticed some concerning behavior on the team.
Assistant coach Andy O’Brion sent out a group email to the rest of the coaches to come up with a solution.
Schultz, the athletic director, was on that email chain and talked about his experiences with Mayville State University — an NAIA program in Mayville, North Dakota — and then the University of North Dakota as a football coach, and as a throwers coach at Milton High School.
“We took what he had and what I came up with and kind of melded them together” to make a motto, O’Brion said.
What the coaching staff ended up with was L.E.A.D. — learning, effort, attitude and determination.
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It isn’t just hot air, though. The Pirates employ another catchphrase that has consequences on the practice field.
If the coaches see a player giving subpar effort, he is told to “roll the dice.” The player has to toss a six-sided cube with six actions: a “fun run,” drag a weighted sled 100 yards, run a 50-yard ladder, do 50-yard lunges, do 300-yard sprints from goal line to goal line, or do 10 “10s” — a series of crunches, burpees, pushups, lunges, jumping jacks, hill climbers, squats, 10-second planks, bicycle kicks and wall sits.
“He picks it up and it’s fixed right then and there,” O’Brion said. “He knows what he did wrong and we move on. He rolls the dice in front of everybody, so we all know something went wrong.”
Head coach Joe Zander hopes rolling the dice in front of the team serves as a positive form of peer pressure to keep players cognizant of their responsibility to their teammates as well as themselves.
Zander said it’s not just for the players as the coaches are also held accountable. During the preseason, Zander left practice early one Friday for his mother’s surprise birthday party. The next day he had to work after practice, so he rolled the dice the following Monday.
“It’s used more to keep you disciplined and keep you more at practice,” Zander said. “Obviously all of us have lives outside of football, but you’ve got to make it up. Instead of us having to be on you after practice to do it, commit to ‘I’m going to do this.’”
Three-legged stool of character
At the start of last season, Randy Herpel was named the new head coach at Randolph. Numbers were low and he needed to find a way to keep the Rockets from quitting when things got tough.
The answer came when he walked by a magnet on his refrigerator that was called, ‘The three-legged stool of personal character.’ On top of the stool said “Integrity” and the three legs had “responsibility, honesty and respect.”
The idea was set.
“That’s where the idea came from — a kitchen magnet,” Herpel said of the three-legged stool with the same words printed on it that he brings to practice. “I thought, ‘You know what, my vision of this in about 10 years it’s going to be so filthy nobody is going to be able to read what it says, but we all understand what it means and we carry it with us wherever we go.’”
“When we brought this in last year, this symbol right here with 17 guys on the field is the only thing that kept our team from folding last year. Everybody understood what we were about.”
Senior Mitch Miller said at first he thought the idea was quirky, “but then you actually look at it and think about what each thing means. It’s like wow, this is actually the base of our team.
“This will lead us to Camp Randall for sure because this is how you build a team. You’ve got to have responsibility, honesty, integrity and respect on a football team.”
Even when things got tough last year — and they did — Herpel could see his team was set on getting back to practice to get better week in and week out.
For example, after Randolph’s 60-6 loss to Fall River in Week 5.
“It turned into a circus show out there,” Herpel said. “They all understood that because of what we believe in here, it’s time to pay the price for how they acted. Everybody accepted that right up front. Nobody complained about it. As a matter of fact, the leadership of the team last year stepped up and said, ‘OK guys, it’s now time to get it done.’”