"A man's got to know his limitations."
- Dirty Harry (Magnum Force)
One week before football started this year at Warwood Middle School, my principal, Mr. M. Andy Garber, called me up and asked if I could meet him at the school. I had no idea what he wanted.
He cut right to the chase, "Bill, I need you to coach football."
I explained to him I hadn't coached football for nearly twenty years. Furthermore, I was more of the "paperwork guy" back then for the 7th and 8th grade team, and really had no say in drilling offensive or defensive plays because we had four coaches. Furthermore, in those coaching days, Warwood Junior High was not known for producing winning football teams, and I was part of that legacy.
Having finished giving every excuse I could think of, including my age, Principal Garber finally said, "BILL, I NEED YOU TO COACH FOOTBALL."
How could I say no?
Now note, there are only two coaches at the middle school level. So, my responsibility was to prepare the 7th grade football team for games. In other words, I had to put together the offense, defense, and special teams, and mold them into a functioning athletic unit on the field. In essence, I had to actually coach a sport of which I had practically no background experience or knowledge.
At this point, let me digress a bit. My only experience as a football player was in 7th and 8th grade, and that was back in the late 1950s. Moreover, I was a third string defensive "nose guard." I played 90% of my football on the bench, getting in the game (on rare occasions) when the score was 40 to nothing, either way. Point being, I was clueless when it came to the "gridiron."
Now back to this fall. My savior was Head Coach John Chacalos, a meticulous student of the game. He knew he had his hands full with me right from the get go. For example, Coach Chacalos suggested that I move two of my seventh graders to flanker and tailback during the first week of practice.
My response was "Sure, coach. Now, where are those positions?"
But I learned; Coach Chacalos was also a great teacher. And I got smart; I decided to fall back on strategies that worked for me as a wrestler and mat sport coach. The four key elements I utilized with my football players were: Discipline, Drill Work, Conditioning, and Organization, with emphasis on "Drilling the Plays and Conditioning the Players." It worked!
To make a long story short, we entered our final seventh-grade contest of the season with a .500 record, and it was a home game. We were leading at halftime, but our opponent tied it up 20-20 with minutes left to play in the fourth quarter.
Now here's where I truly demonstrated my football "savvy."
With only two minutes left in the game, I felt a slight tug on my coaching shirt. It was a football player's father (Mr. Angalich), who was working the chains. He politely mentioned, "Ya know, coach, you get three time-outs per half in football. This might be a good time to start using them; don't ya think?"
After explaining that there are no timeouts in wrestling, I gratefully thanked him and took his advice.
I called my final timeout with 15 seconds left in the game. We had possession of the ball in midfield, a long way from the goal line. But with a couple of football games under my coaching-belt, I knew exactly what I was going to say to the quarterback.
I finally asserted my football-coaching prowess by asking him, "Grove, what do you think?"
"Coach Welker, I think the 9-0-2 pass play will work."
"Go for it!"
I must admit, though not being Roman Catholic, I believe I crossed myself and said a few "Hail, Mary's" as the ball took flight. On the receiving end was one of our two outstanding flankers, Eric, who caught the ball and ran in for the touchdown with only 10 seconds remaining on the clock.
We won the game 28-20, ended with a winning season, and my boys were ecstatic with joy.
The last thing I remember was looking back toward the field house and seeing Coach Chacalos smiling, while shaking his head in awe.
Some of my overly zealous players have asked me to coach again next year, following my retirement from teaching. But after that final "last-second" home game win as a football coach, I have to say: "Thank you very much … but … good night."
(Postscript: A sincere "thank you" to the school administration, parents, fans, and especially Coach John Chacalos, for their unwavering support during the season. This column is dedicated to my Warwood "Viking" football players who made my last year as an educator even more enjoyable. They are Josh Angalich, Dan Bardos, Garrett Black, Eric Bonar, Grove Calvert, Jay Coleman, Cody Graham, Cheng Guo, Tyler Jacobs, Jacob Key, Eric Kupske, Bryce Leach, Jesse Link, Eric McCave, Michael Nicely, Devon Rose, Tanner Stephens, Zach Van Horn, Dorian Wilkes, and Nick Wolf. Merry Christmas, boys!)