Football Footnotes: It Doesn't End in November
By PHIL DUSENBURY
When schools like Goshen, Warwick, Middletown and Port Jervis started playing 11-man football back in the mid-1890's, there was no "off season" as we know it today. In fact football season WAS the offseason. It was something to keep the young men active and involved during that length of time bewtween the end of the high school baseball season (which coincided with the end the professional baseball season and its World Series) and the beginning of basketball.
Early "high school" football teams, complete with "ringers," were more like clubs loosely run a "manager" (like baseball) who was often a student. Because baseball was the spring, summer and fall sport of choice, football season didn't start until sometime in October. It then ended with the big Thanksgiving Morning rivalry games (Port-Middletown, Warwick-Goshen, Newburgh - Kingston and Cornwall - Highland Falls).
My, how things have changed.
Football now not only has come into its own and features fully-involved professional coaches, it is also more and more becoming our country's new "national pasttime." Football also its its own distinct season which lasts much longer than its Septemeber-to-November schedule indicates. And the emerging truth is this: programs that don't treat football as a year-round sport are going to find the annual September-to-November run less and less pleasant.
From my experience, most of the sectional coaches are 12-month coaches. Some, especially in the small schools, get sidetracked because they have to coach more than one sport; but they still get to oversee a lot of their gridders who play winter and spring sports. Specialization, however, has its advantages and is almost mandated by the large number of student-athletes that must be kept track of.
Class AA 2004 Sectional and Regional Champ Monroe-Woodbury is a good example. Veteran coach Pat D'Aliso says that his off-season responsibilities begin as soon as the gridiron campaign is over. Taking care of his seniors take the forefront in November, December and part of January.
"We meet with college coaches, copy game films, get grades and S.A.T scores, work with the kids on their college interests and majors and write recommendations," D'Aliso said. "We'll also sit down with parents and guidance counselors, if necesary."
During that time D'Aliso and his right hand man, Bernie Connolly, will watch the preceding season's game films and break them down.
"We'll look for problems that teams caused us and what we did well and start to plan what to do the next season."
Then in January the returning players get involved.
"We work on strength and conditioning four days a week until football starts in August," the Crusader mentor said. "This involves weight lifting and running drills. We evaluate our players and start to put them into positions. We also monitor our athletes' grades throughout the year."
Like members of most other coaching staffs, the M-W coaches will also try to increase their own skills by reading books and articles and by looking at videos and attending clinics.
"Sometimes we'll visit a college to watch cut-ups and talk to coaches," D'Aliso continued. "We then decide what changes we'll incorporate, if any, and decide the direction we'll go in the next season."
D'Aliso and his staff also meet with key offensive and defensive players to discuss and teach any possible changes.
"Then we'll take the team to the Camp of Champions and participate in the Seven-on-Seven competition at Warwick ... after a lot of time and preparation has been put into attending these two football activities."
Then the M-W staffers will re-evaluate their systems and personnel before setting up pre-season and preliminary game plans.
"We'll first work with the kids on the most important aspects of those plans so that when we hit the field on August 15th, it's just practice and very little teaching. Of course, strength and conditioning continues throughout the summer."
Monroe-Woodbury has its act together.
Over at Newburgh Free Academy, Coach C.T. Chatham and his staff are going through very much the same routine. Last season Monroe-Woodbury kept NFA from a title four-peat, and the Goldbacks want the Class AA crown back. Like D'Aliso, Chatham believes in off-season strength and conditioning programs.
"For high school football teams, they are priceless," Chatham said.
The Goldback coach then listed his five reasons for such organized programs:
"(1) To make sure your athletes are getting the proper training to help them avoid injury during the season. Football is a 'collision' sport, not a 'contact' sport.
"(2) To develop 'Team.'
"(3) To keep up with the Joneses. Anybody with a solid program has an organized, mandatory program.
"(4) The program raises a young man's self-esteem. He feels good about his accomplishments.
"(5) The program keeps the kids off the streets and gives them something to do.
"We lift three days a week and work on speed, agility and aerobics another three days," Chatham concluded. "It's the process that develops young men. Anybody can show up on gameday."
The program that had the most on-field success in 2004 was Wallkill. Upending defending state champ Nyack in the Class A Regionals, the Panthers went to play in the state finals where they fell just short of snagging a state championship. Walkill's rise to power was no fluke.
"In 2000 when we as a new staff took over, there were very few games in which we came out on top physically," said Panther head coach Dave Der Cola. "We knew that if we were going to improve and become a solid program, we were going to have to change the prevailing attitude about getting in the weight room.
"In the first couple of years, a lot of the guys fought us on the issue. As a result, we had trouble playing with physical teams. So we had a 'Bigger, Faster, Stronger' clinic in January of 2001 and then another in 2004. It's a program geared toward helping athletes become more athletic. We've seen such improvement in those who have truly dedicated themselves."
In 2004 Wallkill had six of its players named to the Class A All-State team.
"Our goal is to build explosive power in our athletes. Regardless of what sport you play, explosive power is essential for success. The two other by-products of increased strength and power is confidence and injury prevention. You want your athletes confident and you need them to stay healthy. To us, training year-round is essential on all fronts.
"We encourage all of our players to participate in other sports. We don't believe in the concept of specialization that exists in today's athletics. But we also insist that they continue to strength-train regardless of what other sports they are involved in. Most of our other coaches (at Wallkill) encourage strength training into their seasons, but if not, we open the weight room at 6 AM each day and tell our players that they need to train at least two times a week in order to keep making strength gains. We try to take away any excuses they may have for not doing it.
"So far this off-season, we have been getting good participation. Our players are very aware that without our strength and conditioning program, we wouldn't have made it anywhere near that state championship game. We were in that weight room twice a week during the season; in fact, we even lifted on Thanksgiving morning before we left for Syracuse."