Lessons from the gridiron
● By Steven Hoffman
As any football fan will attest, there's a lot to like about the 2017 Unionville Indians.
Under head coach Pat Clark and his staff, the Indians have developed a reputation for being a well-coached football team that emphasizes the fundamentals of the game. They tackle. They play good team defense. In a football world that has gone crazy for the passing game, Unionville still places an emphasis on running the ball. The team has enjoyed a great deal of success in the last 12 or 15 years by playing this kind of football, but the 2017 team has reached new heights.
With the victory over Marple Newtown last Friday night, Unionville advanced to the District 1 championship game for the first time since 2005. The team has posted 12 victories this season, a record for them, and they've also advanced to the final eight teams in the PIAA Class AAAAA state playoffs.
In addition to being a consistently good football team, this Unionville squad could teach an observer some valuable lessons.
One illustration of this is the value of teamwork. Teamwork has always been a part of the Indians’ success. There have been talented players who have worn the Unionville uniform through the years, but the team has never been reliant on just one or two or three superstars. For Unionville, the success usually comes from contributions from many different players.
One impediment to good teamwork is when one individual starts to place himself over the others. That doesn't happen in Unionville. Selflessness is a hallmark of a good player, and this Unionville squad is filled with selfless players. No player is going to touch the ball 30 times on offense.
The players on this year's team are very good at focusing on the small details. Each player has a job to do, and if there is a breakdown somewhere along the way, that can create problems. If an offensive lineman misses a block on offense, an opportunity might be lost. If a linebacker gets caught out of position on defense, the other team might get a big play. But Unionville is disciplined, which is why the defense was able to limit the production of Marple Newtown's standout running back Marlon Weathers.
Another of the Unionville team's best qualities is its resiliency. Against Marple Newtown, Unionville fell behind 14-0. The Indians were a little off on both sides of the ball, and Marple Newtown was playing well enough to dominate the first eight minutes of the game. But the Unionville players didn’t panic, and they didn’t lose focus. The Indians scored 21 points in the second quarter and made some adjustments that results in a dominant performance in the second half.
Another characteristic of the Unionville team is consistency. They play good football week in and week out, year in and year out. They don't have a great game one week and a terrible one the next. Reaching the final eight in the state is unprecedented for the Unionville team. But year in and year out since Clark took over as coach, the Indians have won 7, 8, 9 or more games in a highly competitive Ches-Mont League. That's not by accident.
When it comes to succeeding in sports, there is no substitute for preparation and hard work.
Moments after Unionville defeated Marple Newtown, JT Hower was asked about facing Springfield, the top seed in District 1, in the championship game on Nov. 24. Hower said that the team would simply prepare the same way it has all season long.
“We go in every week practicing hard to win,” Hower said. “We’re going to work hard for next Friday night.”
Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi once said that “Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
Without even knowing it, a team has been illustrating Lombardi's point on the Unionville football field each and every Friday night.