When I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, Maplewood youth tackle football teams had a strong reputation.
Plenty of stars came out of that program including Kevin Jez, who excelled at St. John’s High School and played on scholarship for Boston College; and Brian Howard, one of a tiny number of guys ever to be named All-Met in high school for excellence in three different sports including football.
So all these 50 years later I still remember hearing about Maplewood football, a program started in 1961. And all these years later life keeps taking us down unexpected pathways related to growing up playing sports.
A guy I knew in high school named Rooster Nalls – yes Rooster (real first name unknown) – called me a few weeks ago saying he wrote a book about coaching Maplewood football teams for 28 years. During this run, his team captured five championships. He coached a half dozen NFL.
Rooster sent me his book, Coaching Football: It’s Not What You Know It’s What They Know, and asked me to check it out, which I did this morning. I came away from the reading experience feeling admiration and kinship with Rooster for sharing what’s in his heart and mind about having coached in this program. I coached my daughters in youth basketball.
He starts the book by explaining he wasn’t a star high school player at Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C., but he loved the game and got into coaching because it fulfilled him.
He describes teaching young boys how to think, practice, and prepare for living a good life with priorities that transcend football. Chief among them: being a supportive and reliable member of a family. Rooster’s the youngest of eight boys.
His writing is smooth, skilled, intelligent, charming, and refreshing. Rooster’s candor about himself and his conviction about the importance of playing and coaching football ring authentic. They leave you thinking about the massive size of his heart and flair for blunt, uncommon, and profound insights.
“We do small things every day,” he writes. “Football is a stupid game. Move the ball of leather past the line that we painted in the grass down there. We should not take ourselves too seriously. Remember that we are specks of dust on a rock circling a super-hot basketball that is one of trillions. But those specs of dust are capable of some remarkable experiences if they float around in certain ways.”
Float with that awesome idea.
On one level describing football as stupid shows Rooster’s wisdom. But he goes deeper by comparing this stupid sport to specs of dust swirling about a sizzling basketball. You don’t get that imagery every day.
It’s the kind of original thought I remember Rooster unleashing as a young charismatic guy I used to enjoy being around in high school along with Bullet (shot but survived), Meathead, Flash, Qweenie, Dankos, Rudy, Spoog, and dozens of others. With exquisite bluntness, Rooster nails the heart of youth football and what it all means.
“The real tradition, the essence of it, is how we practice and how we play the game. Some of the other stuff we do for fun and to get ourselves fired up, and that’s all good, that helps. But what we do every day, how we conduct ourselves, that’s what truly matters. You should play this game in a certain way. We’re going to hit, have fun, put the team first pay the price, play with pride, and hit.”
For 28 years Rooster coached in the Maplewood program, winning five championships. He stressed to his players the importance of practicing. In his inimitable way, Rooster emphasized to his players the importance of schoolwork.
“Now if any of y’all are here today because you think that you are going to be playing on Sundays, then you are a dumb ass. Now don’t get me wrong here, I applaud that dream, and I want you to pursue it, but you are still a dumbass. And if that is the case, then you better start studying finance, so you can figure out what to do with all your money.
There are dozens of reasons why your schoolwork is more important than this team or this sport. I was in your shoes once, so I know how dull school can be and I also know what football can mean to you. I am not going to stand here and argue the merits of your education. But mark my words boys, the benefits are real.”
It’s uplifting to read the thoughts of an adult who understands what’s most important in life and commits himself to teach those lessons to young football players. Reading his words, I believe Rooster is the kind of man I would want to coach my son. He’s all about teaching boys how to lead lives of substance.
“Our mission is to answer a simple question,” he writes. “How good can we be together? Nothing matters more than that.”
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
Sammy Sportface Has a Vision -- Check It Out
Sammy Sportface -- The Baby Boomer Brotherhood Blog -- Facebook Page