We have just passed the halfway point of this year’s CFL season.
As most fans would agree, though, it’s this back half that makes all the difference. We may be almost done, but for thousands of young teenagers around North America, their 2013 football experience is just now getting started.
I happened to drive past my old high school the other day and caught a glimpse of the young boys out practicing for this year’s season.
A wave of nostalgia came over me and then the clear realization that no matter what level you make it to, or how many years you play, all of our careers can be traced back to a similar beginning. We all started at some level of amateur football, and we were all coached by someone who volunteered their time to help teach us this great sport.
I started this pursuit later than some. I was a hesitant 16-year-old, a little worried that maybe I was coming to the sport a little too late to have a real chance. But from the moment I walked into my first team meeting, two coaches changed everything about me. They changed what I knew about football, how to act and prepare professionally, and, most importantly, about how to truly believe in yourself and your dreams.
Paul Dal Monte was my head football coach at Vancouver College and Anthony Howie was my positional coach. Both men were teachers at the school and volunteered their time, for both the love of the game and their desire to help grow and encourage us young men.
Both Paul and Anthony knew the sport and were able to teach and coach it at a very high level. Our school’s onfield record over their tenure was proof that they were both great at building and producing winning football teams. Looking back now though, what I really see is two men that gave their time and were great at building and producing confident, accountable, mature young men.
Paul, or Coach D as he will always be to me, showed me right away at the age of 16 what it meant to take something seriously and to really commit. Meetings were held at lunchtime and being one second late was not accepted. Off-season team lifting was always mandatory, and was sometimes held in the mornings before school. Mandatory meant just that; if you were going to play football on his team, you were going to be fully committed and present. I learned what it was to not just watch film but to study it. To never miss a football practice, for any reason. Standards were set very high, and the expectation of you as a young athlete was set even higher. Not that you had to be great, but you had to understand that if you were going to be a part of the team you were committing to your teammates and coaches and expected to give 100 per cent everyday.
As well as being my English teacher, Anthony, or Coach Howie, was my offensive line coach. A former college lineman, Coach Howie had a true passion for the sport. It was his job to coach me up on the nuances of the position. Nowhere did it also say it was his role to spend extra time with me in the weight room, help me prepare game film to send out to universities, and most of all, act as a confidant during my quest to take this sport to the next level.
These two men helped shape me well beyond the football field. I came out of high school with a full grasp of discipline, accountability, attention to detail, and the all-important knowledge that if I wanted something and was willing to work for it, there was no good reason why I couldn’t get it.
I’m not sure too many young athletes fully comprehend the impact amateur coaches really have on their lives. It usually goes well beyond the playing field. What needs to be really appreciated here is that these men do this in their free time out of the goodness of their heart. I don’t think enough praise can be given to high school coaches and the job they really do.
So coaches, if you’re reading this, from all us athletes at any age that were once on your team, thank you. Thank you for spending your time helping us use a sport to grow up and achieve our dreams.
Angus Reid is a centre with the B.C. Lions and a 13-year veteran of the CFL.