This day and age, you’ll see bad publicity everywhere you look, whether it’s on your TV, phone or tablet. And when young minds ingest that information daily, it can have a lasting impact.
For this special report, I took to the football field, to find out how high school coaches avoid scandal and teach their players life lessons on and off the field.
They have young, impressionable minds. Each one different, but with so many similarities. Still young, but dying to grow up quickly. Easily influenced by the things they see and hear daily.
“Our kids are media savvy, they read a lot of stuff, they watch a lot of stuff, so it opens up avenues to talk to them about the things they see and hear,” said Billy Dawson, head football coach of Fayetteville High School.
Despite the bad behaviors we’re seeing at the college and professional football level, local coaches say it’s their mission to address it early with their players.
“It’s who we are, it’s our culture, it’s ingrained in our kids. This is what we do, this is how we act and this is what we expect. And our kids buy into that,” Dawson said.
“The most powerful thing we can do is not only teach young men how to be accountable for football, own responsibility, compete at a high level, be able to grind, handle adversity and persevere. But you’re also preparing them to get ready to go into life,” said Chris Wood, head football coach of Har-Ber High School.
For these two coaches, from schools just down the street from each other, it’s all about making a daily impact.
For Coach Billy Dawson, It’s the H.A.R.D. System.
Honest. Accountable. Relentless. Discipline.
“You have to have a strong focus on the values you set,” said Cameron Ervin, a senior left tackle at FHS. “Just because you talk about those values doesn’t mean you will actually preach it outside of football.”
For Coach Chris Wood at Springdale Har-Ber High, it’s about shaping boys into men. Putting emphasis on values like family, integrity, and mental toughness.
“It’s the foundation of our team. When things go bad and we hit adversity, we rely on those and it brings us all together to play well,” Gabriel Baker, a junior inside linebacker at Har-Ber High School.
Because to these coaches, football is more than just X’s and O’s. At FHS, teammates volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. At Har-Ber, you may catch them reading to kids in elementary school.
“It’s not really to make us great football players, but to get ready for the real world and to be good men in the real world,” said Justin Moto, a senior cornerback at Har-Ber.
“Football in itself creates men. Letting your actions speak louder than words is what being a man is all about. Through community service and doing this now as you are younger, it leads to being successful when you are older,” Baker said.
If you instill these values early on, coaches say the W’s will come. In the end, their men will be ready for life beyond the gridiron.
“If they can go to college and play athletics, great. If they go to get a degree, great. If they go to the military, great. But we want to know when they leave the program, that we have impacted them in a positive way,” Wood said.
Both coaches say if you want the kids to buy into the system, you still need to win. Luckily, both have done just that. Coach Dawson and the Purple Dawgs last won a state championship in 2016. Coach Wood and the Wildcats took home a title in 2009.