New Beginnings

The inaugural Vermont All-Star Passing Academy / Alercio OLine Clinic on Sunday July 25th was a great day for football in the Northeast Kingdom.  Players who will be opponents in the coming months were teammates for a day and became friends.  Hopefully many of them will be teammates again on the Vermont North v South State All-Star Teams or the Vermont Shine team.

It was particularly rewarding to see two of my former offensive linemen show up to refresh themselves on the drills, techniques and schemes we use in preparation for their roles coaching our local 5th and 6th grade team.  As I have said in previous blogs, I began a career in coaching to impact the lives of my players the way my coaches impacted my life.  I like to think Caleb and Jack are getting into coaching for the same reason, and am confident they’ll enjoy the same satisfaction.

Our focus this week is on our week-long Mini Camp which concludes with our 7v7 Tournament, Strongman Competition and OLine Challenge on Saturday July 31st.  The week allows us time to teach the fundamentals of football: blocking, tackling, running, passing, and receiving; but more importantly, it provides us time to build our team, reinforce our culture and develop leadership. It’s always interesting to see who rises to the occasion, seizes an opportunity, and stands out as a leader. Our staff are thrilled to have the opportunity to channel that energy and form the nucleus of who we will become over the coming weeks.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

Signals, Both Near & Far

Signals Near & Far

It’s been quite a week here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. While July has provided all one would expect of the peak of summer, I had a few unexpected arrivals this week. One, a text message from the parent of a new player, and the other, an email from a returning veteran.

As I contemplate this week’s blog, I was a little hesitant to post it as one could possibly read it as me congratulating myself… Please know that is the farthest thing from my intent. As I have repeatedly presented in many of the nearly 200 posts over the last few years, I try to share successes and challenges as exactly that: an opportunity to share with others, as so many coaches have shared with me. Further, I think it is important to reinforce themes of culture, values, and vision to present what’s possible AND achievable! Teachers, coaches, parents, mentors, managers, and others have the opportunity to apply the same tenants, processes, and procedures to build cohesive teams and achieve more than they thought possible.

So with that preamble out of the way the first of two “signals” indicating the culture, character, values, and vision are taking hold.

I received the following from the parent of a player who is new to both the team and school this summer.

One day last week after a practice ending with a long hot run down by the baseball field, Josh came back to the truck completely soaked with sweat on what had been a very humid day. I expected him to say something about the heat or being exhausted or something along those lines, but the exact first words out of his mouth were exactly this.

“I love everything about this place… I love my coaches, my teammates, the campus… I love it all. I’m so glad we made it here. I finally have a place where I can really be an accepted part of the team… I finally have a place to call home.”

All the way home I fought back tears thinking how grateful I was for his happiness and how blessed he felt to be welcomed into the Hilltopper family. All the culture you have built and established over the years is now something Josh gets to share in and he is extremely grateful (as am I). I am glad he is working hard for you thus far. His love of the game has been rekindled and that feeds his desire to work. Thank you for welcoming us with open arms. 

The second note came quite literally from across the world… We have a returning Hilltopper who had spent much of 2020 and all of 2021 at home with his parents in China. Although he was looking forward to returning, he was writing to relay his disappointment that continuing COVID protocols were delaying his return and he was concerned about missing camp and letting his teammates down.” Further, he went on to relay the work he had been doing in the meantime to stay both strong and fit, as well as describing how he had been playing with a local team in his hometown. (The pictures he sent sure looked a lot like American Football!) I let him know how much I appreciated his concern for the team and reassured him both the staff and his teammates understand the challenges he’s facing, and know he’s working as hard as possible to be able to contribute once circumstances permit. During the email exchange, I asked where he was thinking about playing this year, and his response was the second signal in as many weeks that we are reinforcing the culture and character that will enable success on the playing field, and far beyond the confines of the season or even the high school experience:

“At last spring’s practices I played Tight End, and I think I am good at catching and running with the ball; however, I am familiar with offensive lineman (OL) drills and plays so OL will work for me as well! The interests of our football team is the most important, so if we have enough tight ends or we need experienced lineman I will be honored and happy to be OL for my senior year.”

From literally thousands of miles away came a message of selflessness, commitment, and a desire and willingness to put the good of the team above his own personal interests. Key to our culture is “pride in belonging,” and a “team first” mentality. I hope your team is sending similar signals and the investments you are making in the betterment of others results in teamwork, cohesion, and ultimately success both on and off the field.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

Competition Returns!

Hilltopper Teammates and Coaches

Thank you to Chris Redding of Vermont All-Star Football Camps and Tom McCoy, head coach at Burr & Burton Academy, for hosting the Inaugural Vermont All-Star Football 7v7 Tournament.  Congratulations to Mount Anthony Union High School and Coach Chad Gordon on taking home the championship.  We were able to find a way to get a win in Game #1 vs Mt Anthony before they went on a tear winning their next 5 games including knocking us out in the semi finals.  

Join us Sunday, July 25 at St Johnsbury Academy for the Vermont All-Star Football Camps Passing Academy and Alercio OLine Clinic

Now, I look forward to working with Chris Redding to host the Vermont All-Star Football Camps Passing Academy and Alercio OLine Clinic on Sunday, July 25 at St Johnsbury Academy.  I was excited to meet linemen from Mt Anthony and Burr & Burton who shared how eager they are to make the trip to STJ to hone their OLine Skills.  I am also thrilled to bring college coaches and position specialists to the Northeast Kingdom to work with all position players.  

The Math and Science teachers of those attending the Alercio OLine Clinic will appreciate how we set and maintain optimal geometric angles in the ankle, knee, hip and elbows in run blocking and the leg angles used in pass blocking.  They will also be happy to know that we incorporate Newton’s Third Law that for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.  We call it Ground Force Reaction as we time our run punch with the grounding of our second step and pass strike with the grounding of our third. Lastly, we’re not shy about teaching “Inertia” either. A pass rusher will continue on his path (to sack the quarterback) unless acted upon by another force; ideally an Offensive Lineman imparting a vector of sufficient force and direction to change the rusher’s predetermined course!

Competitive and instructional opportunities like these are commonplace in many states but are a rarity in Vermont, especially in the Northeast Kingdom. To take advantage of this opportunity, visit https://www.vtfootballcamps.com/events/vermont-all-star-passing-academy/

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

Camp Reflections

Last week was our week-long Youth Football Camp.  Our Defensive Coordinator, John Lovett, does all the planning and orchestrating of the camp, and does a tremendous job making football fun for the kids.  Below is an email I received from him recapping the week:

I wanted to write to you and give you a couple observations from another successful youth camp. First, I was incredibly happy the campers were so excited to experience the weight room and our speed and agility training. Numerous campers cited learning to increase speed, strength, and agility was their favorite part. It really hit home with them that both our coaches and players believe the mantra “games are not won on Friday nights in the fall, rather they are won with each rep in the summer.”  

Coach John Lovett with Campers Emma & Liam

A funny consequence of this success was echoed in a comment from Emma (John’s daughter) as I left for OTAs (Organized Team Activities with our High School players) on Monday night. She said, “Daddy have fun at your happy place.” I told her I would certainly make the most of the OTA but asked her what made her call it my “happy place?” She told me that Coach Alercio said, “the weight room was our collective happy place.”

All three of my children are excited to be included in the benefits of athletic performance training, and I have your authentic love of the process and our players’ belief in your program to thank for that. It is incredible that with all the games and fun we program into camp the youth in our area are more excited about the promise of success earned through hard work.

My second observation is followed by a sincere thank you. As you know, this was Emma’s first year at camp. She has made sure I know that although she does not wish to play football in the future, she does hope to do football camp each year. She is so proud of her athletic improvement and it’s amazing to see the confidence she has gained. She is equally proud of proving she can do everything the boys can. She commented her favorite part of camp was that no one (neither coaches nor fellow campers) treated her like a girl. When I asked her what that meant, she let me know each drill had an expectation that was the same for everyone. She was coached to do things right (without accommodation), and expectations of her were the same as everyone else. Her campmates also made sure to include and encourage her just like anyone other teammate. She was asked to move and make contact, to do everything everyone else did, and she was coached based on a standard rather than her gender.

Like the camper who had just moved to the area and showed up in tears but left with a smile on his face, or the time taken to talk to campers about attitude as much as aptitude, camp has given my daughter a gift. Equity is a gift that escapes so many in our communities and I am proud to be part of a program that creates equity not through accommodation for one, but in creating expectation and inclusion for all. I am so proud of my daughter, and I am so proud of Hilltopper football.

My Sincerest Thank you,

John Lovett  

I’m thrilled to hear both John and Emma’s perspectives on this year’s Youth Camp. I remain convinced culture and consistency underpin successful teams regardless of pursuit. It’s our privilege to offer area youth their first taste of Hilltopper Culture and I’m even more encouraged by the way they responded.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

Beginning, Approaching, Meeting, & Exceeding.

The Hilltoppers return to in-person, indoor athletic performance training this week for the first time since November 2019.  In an effort to organize the dozens of athletes grades 9-12 of varying skill and strength levels, to get them through their training in an efficient manner, we will group them using a rubric often used in education.  Competencies or expectations are measured in education by four categories: Beginning, Approaching, Meeting, Exceeding.  We will group our players based on their competency in the weightroom so that we have all of the players who need the most instruction together and players of similar strength grouped together so that little time is wasted in plate changes on racks.

Inspired by the book I am currently reading, “Into Thin Air,” and a recent hike my wife and I just did to the top of Mt Washington, (along with the fact that we are the Hilltoppers!), we will use a climbing theme to name our lifting groups and their respective racks in our weight room.  All of the beginners will be known as “Base Campers” and will work in the two racks labeled Base Camp.  Those approaching expectations of a varsity football player will be known as “Climbers.”  Players meeting expectations will be labeled “Mountaineers,” and those who exceed expectations are our “Hilltoppers.” 

Players will be evaluated throughout the summer on a weekly basis to see if they are ready to move from one group to another. Just as climbers help one another along their journey, our groups will support and encourage each other as they confront the challenges of summer training. Together, we look forward to rekindling the pride in belonging that underpins our culture and success.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

A Fond Farewell…

Farewell Fairbanks Field

Farewell Fairbanks Field.  You were good to us.  In the past eight seasons you saw us post a 34-4 home record while going 10-0 in home playoff games.  In the last five years, only one school in the State of Vermont has walked off your grass with a win.  You truly gave us a home field advantage.

More importantly, you saw players enter your gates as boys and leave them four years later as men and leaders in their community. You saw individuals come together as a team, a family, a brotherhood.  You saw us work as hard Monday through Friday as we did on Saturdays.  

Over the coming weeks, we will lay down an artificial turf field and erect lights.  Games this fall will move from Saturday afternoons to Friday nights. While I am thrilled for our program, I am equally excited for our local community.  The residents of St Johnsbury and surrounding towns will now have their own version of “Friday Night Lights.”  

Kenny Chesney’s song “The Boys of Fall,” includes the lyrics:

“When I feel that chill, and smell that fresh cut grass
I’m back in my helmet, cleats, and shoulder pads
Standing in the huddle listening to the call
Fans going crazy for the boys of fall…”

Thank you to the past Hilltoppers whose hard work and dedication lead to the success that made this possible.  While you may never play on this new field, you are the reason future Hilltoppers will.  Future teams might not “smell that fresh cut grass” but they will most certainly work as hard as you did, uphold the legacy you left, and it is my most sincere hope they will look back as fondly as so many of you do.  

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

FREEDOM

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”

A week in paradise

I was reminded of this James A. Michener quote titled, “Freedom” on the last day of my vacation. On our last night on Oahu, while dozens of family members gathered for dinner celebrating my nephew’s wedding, a theme emerged in conversation.  After a week of hiking, surfing, golfing, snorkeling, sightseeing, and celebrating everyone was commenting on how disappointed they were that our week in paradise was coming to an end.  All but two of us…  My brother-in-law’s brother and I both stated that for as much fun as we had we were both looking forward to getting back home and back to work.  Coincidentally, we are both high school football coaches. He coaches at Georgia powerhouse Milton High School.

With memories that will last a lifetime, we both turn our focus to summer athletic performance training and 7v7 practices pursuing our vision of excellence.  Although neither of us would cling to “master in the art of living” (as we both understand just how much more there is to learn personally and professionally), Our work is our play.  Our labor is our leisure.  According to Michener, we have both found “Freedom.”

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

Start – Stop – Continue

I recently viewed a video on “Glazier Drive” titled “Start, Stop and Continue,” by Coach Bolden from Cincinnati, Ohio.  After seeing his win-loss record and number of league championships over the past 20 years you might think his off-season evaluation process would be Continue, Continue and Continue!  I imagine his long-term success is due in large part to his willingness to evaluate and change.  

Just because something made you successful in decades ago does not mean it will lead to equal success today.  What you did with your 6’3″ quarterback one year may not work as well with your 5’9″ QB.  When your offensive line averages 250+, your Man and Zone schemes will have greater success than when you average less than 225 up front.  Those 225lbs guys would benefit from the double teams, angles, and pulls in Gap schemes.  

The ever changing trends in football, strength training and society drive winning coaches to change and stay current.  Over the next two weeks, during the time between our off-season training program and the start of our summer organized team activities, we will place everything we do (and are thinking of doing) on an Excel spreadsheet in one of three columns:  Start, Stop and Continue. We will assess each and give consideration to our forecast depth chart, and upcoming rule changes, and/or conditions affecting our players or the game next fall. While we strive to reinforce success, we must also assess our processes, methods, and goals against evolving circumstances and conditions. Many recall companies like Blockbuster, K-Mart, and Sears who failed to adapt to changing conditions and appear to have fallen victim to “always doing it that way.” (Even in the face of an evolving playing field.) Fresh looks, perspectives, and approaches require a staff to “Start, Stop, and Continue.”

Special Note:

I recently had two videos added to the Glazier Drive.  One is on our Screen Pass Options.  The other on our Curl-Fault Middle Read drop-back pass.  To view a snippet of the SPO presentation, click here: Coach Alercio talks SPOs I hope it inspires someone to run our SPO package the way Coach Bolden inspired me to categorize every aspect of our program.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

New Hires & New Perspectives

This week, I had my first meeting with a newly hired assistant coach on our staff.  He brings a dozen years of high school and college coaching experience from schools in the mid-west.  While he seemed excited to join our staff and learn what we have done to achieve our past successes, I am equally thrilled to hear what he knows and to have him share with our staff what he has learned during his tenure.  

New plays and new ways of thinking.

Some advice for head coaches hiring assistants and for that matter everyone in leadership hiring anyone to their staff:  Do not surround yourself with sycophants.  Obsequious assistant coaches may be good for a head coach’s ego, but they offer little value to a program.  There is a saying, “if we are all of the same opinion then there is no need for all of us to be here.”  Surround yourself with assistants who will offer their thoughts and challenge yours.

While it’s common for interviews to include questions about an applicant’s “strengths and weaknesses,” as leaders it’s often more important to know your own than to listen to an applicant offer platitudes about “working too hard,” or “being a perfectionist.” Particularly after a leader has developed some tenure and a reservoir of experience, knowing your weaknesses helps you hire to fill them.

Be the best you are at what you do, and reinforce your core strengths while hiring to fill gaps in capabilities. In a stadium, where you sit determines what you see… Perspectives matter. As leaders we don’t need someone sitting over our shoulder with the same view and perspective. We need those whose strengths, views, and perspectives differ if we are to truly build complementary staffs, and ultimately teams.

We have stated in previous blogs that together our team is always stronger than any one individual. The same applies to our staff.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

Measurables & Immeasurables…

In previous years, we have shared blogs of a practice our staff does of drafting the players on our team in the order we would choose them if we were picking teams.  We do it around the time of the NFL Draft.  The post-draft staff discussions are always interesting as reasons are shared as to why one coach ranked a player so much higher than another.  

Measurables & Immeasurables…

It is not uncommon for coaches in our draft or executives in the NFL draft to get caught up in the “measurables”.  College coaches do it as well in the recruiting process.  Quarterbacks need to be 6′ 3″ or taller and offensive linemen need to be at least 6′ 4″.  The athletic test know as “The Combine” tests players in the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, bench press, broad jump, shuttle, and three cone drill.   Coaches have rows and columns of “measurables” yet some players find ways to surprise. Personally, I became a fan of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers when I saw their offensive success with a 5′ 9″ Center.  As a former 5′ 9″ college Center, I have an appreciation for overcoming those stereotypes and delivering above cursory expectations.

While the NFL draft and the college recruiting process affords coaches the luxury of being picky in player selection, high school football does not offer such indulgences.  We coach the boys who live in our town and try to put the best 11 on the field regardless of their size. As my high school defensive coordinator, Ed Heffernan used to say, “do not prejudice a player based on his size.” 

A “higher maxim” found in 1 Samuel 16:7 teaches us, “…the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Others seem to echo similar sentiments as in Admiral William H McCraven’s famous University of Texas commencement speech stating: “if you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart.”  Unfortunately, the NFL has yet to find a way to track heart size as a measurable. While I claim to be no better at measuring heart, I would like to emphasize the importance in a high school coaches’ role in leading, guiding, teaching, and mentoring our student athletes to build as big a heart as bench press or squat. When adversity finds our players later in life (as it finds us all), adversity never checks the tangibles. Our athletes’ hearts are measured in resilience, endurance, and perseverance. As coaches, our charge is to help them do more than they thought possible, so that some day when tested by adversity, they will find themselves equal to that task (Combine or no combine!)

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at richalercio@gmail.com and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!