WHERE ARE THEY NOW
Thursday evenings not always about football for Central Catholic
November 22, 2012Lafayette Central Catholic High School
Central Catholic’s football players file into the classroom, take a sheet of paper from the stack being passed around and add it to their basic blue binders.
Those binders don’t contain Central Catholic’s playbook or a scouting report on the next opponent. Yet the Knights say the contents have been just as crucial to their three-year run as Class A state champions.
After handing out helmet stickers and awards for the previous week’s game, and before the pasta meal organized by team moms, CC assistant coach Jim Schrader leads a scriptural lesson. Whenever possible, he also finds examples from the world of football that correlate.
Each week’s lesson is different, but the overall theme, the unconditional love the players should have for each other, has not changed since the tradition began four seasons ago.
“It helps us grow on a deeper connection than just playing the game,” CC senior Jimmy Mills said. “It creates a bond. It creates a team unity not useful in just football, but our lives and school and relationships.”
Schrader first gave the lessons while serving as Central Catholic’s junior high coach, triggered by a 2007 loss to West Lafayette in which he did not like his team’s demeanor.
“The final analysis was we didn’t think it was a talent or football skill situation — it was that our team kind of melted down and our team started blaming each other for some of the things that were going wrong,” Schrader said. “It created a lot of soul-searching on my part. The staff did a great job teaching the fundamentals, but I realized if I was going to coach older boys, I had to do a better job teaching them teamwork and things like that.”
Schrader moved up the following year to join newly hired Kevin O’Shea’s staff as a volunteer assistant. After seeing some of the same failings in Central Catholic’s sectional semifinal loss to Sheridan, Schrader approached O’Shea about bringing those lessons to the high school program.
O’Shea’s teams at previous schools had held the Thursday team dinners, and they decided to add the lessons to those get-togethers. The 2009 Knights were heavy favorites to win a state championship before day one, and the first lesson of that first season was about humility.
“They weren’t anything about football; it was all about becoming a better man and a better team,” said Jake Milakis, a senior linebacker on the 2009 team. “We’d come out of those and we all thought the same thing. We knew we had each other’s backs and we would be there for each other.”
The 2009 Knights completed a perfect 15-0 season by winning the program’s third state championship. On the Thursday before the 2010 season opener, Schrader handed out new binders with 15 tabs — one for each lesson the team planned to have that season.
The first lesson of the season typically covers the concepts of ‘team’ or ‘unity.’ But football is absent from other topics, such as respecting women or becoming a good husband and father.
For those lessons, Schrader often invites a player’s parent or someone else from the Central Catholic community to lead the discussion. Ann Bondi spoke about motherhood to the 2010 team, when her son, Patrick, was a senior.
“There was no way I could say no because of what Jim and all the other coaches have done for our sons on the field and off the field,” Bondi said. “It was sort of intimidating speaking in front of all the boys on the team and all the coaches, but I had to do it.
“The meetings were about developing men of character, and I think mothers have a great role in raising their sons to be good and holy men of character.”
Central Catholic already provides a faith-based academic environment, including mass each Friday. Most of the student-athletes came up through the Lafayette Catholic Schools system and their families attend local churches.
Yet the football parents say the Thursday lessons may have a greater impact since they originate from a source to which teenage boys might be more receptive, and in a less conventional setting.
“As parents, we’re interested in what they’re doing on Friday nights, but in the bigger picture of things, what we’re really interested in is what are they going to be doing 15 years from now,” said Don Corcoran, father of current Knight players Ross and Joe as well as 2011 graduate Stu. “Be good husbands, good fathers, good parents?
“I could deliver that speech to my children, and as any parent will tell you, you’ll get a certain reception. When you hear it from someone you may know more distantly, you’re going to receive it better. And in a group of peers, I feel the message carries and resonates more.”
Schrader originally intended for the lessons to translate into football success as well. The Knights say that goal was a success, and so do the numbers.
Central Catholic has won 58 of 59 games over the past four seasons, establishing the second-longest winning streak in state history along the way. The Knights have won 23 straight postseason games, also the second-longest streak in state history, and only two of those games were won by fewer than 20 points.
“Any close game we’ve ever been in, I’ve thought of the things Coach Schrader said,” said CC senior Andrew Hubertz, who said the lessons help him calm down and focus before a game. “West Side, Guerin, even at Culver (Academies) this year when we lost, I was thinking of things he’d said. When we lost, it helped me get over the pain.”
Per tradition, Central Catholic will hold its final lesson of the season with its team get-together this morning. It will be the 60th discussion Schrader has led with the high school program, and most of the graduating Knights will exit with four binders full of lessons.
Senior Patrick Mackey said he plans to keep his binders for future use. In some ways, those binders will serve as a playbook or game plan.
“We’re building more than football,” O’Shea said. “Football is wins and losses and life goes on. The kids will remember their relationships with their coaches and with each other. The core of it is they’ll miss each other more than they’ll miss winning a state championship.”