“The Game”

2018-10-18 Tradition Never Graduates

Football’s greatest rivalries: Ohio State v Michigan, Auburn v Alabama, Army v Navy…

St Johnsbury Academy v Lyndon Institute???


Two high schools in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont have one of the oldest football rivalries in the country.  “The Game”, as it has been named, dates back to 1894, with St Johnsbury having the edge 63-44-6.

In 2013, USA Today conducted an online poll to determine the greatest rivalry in the nation.  “The Game” easily won the Vermont, New England, and Eastern Regions, before finishing fourth in the nation.

Tradition matters… We all want to belong to something. Family, Team, Church, Fraternity or Sorority, or other associations or societies.  My friends who are Marines love being part of The Few and The Proud. Other Service members have their strong affiliations, and all are underpinned by traditions, accomplishments, and myths handed down with almost legendary reverence.

When we talk about “team building,” and putting the good of the team above self-interest, examples of those who went before us serve as a reminder of both what is possible, and what is expected. There is added responsibility to uphold the traditions of those who went before, and occasionally the responsibility to right some wrong or restore the best aspects of a tradition.

The Hilltoppers will look to get series win 64 on Saturday, October 20.  The Hilltoppers have won the last four meetings outscoring the Vikings 240 – 20.  Before you accuse us of running up the score against our rivals, please note that we have not scored a 4th quarter touchdown during that 4-year stretch.

Regardless of records or standings, this rivalry brings out the best of both towns, schools, and teams.  Homecoming events welcome alumni back to both campuses from all over the world.  Parades go down Main Street in each town, ending back on campus for bonfires, and the memories of games past, families, and friendships.

As the Fall Foliage Season comes to an end in Vermont, the focus in the Northeast Kingdom turns to the 114th annual clash between St Johnsbury Academy and Lyndon Institute. The Hilltoppers stand ready!

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 your time!


Ifs and Buts…

“If ifs and buts were gifts and nuts, everyone would have a Merry Christmas…”

Your record today is what it is.  You cannot go back and get a “do over.” Focus on the game ahead.  There is a reason why your car’s windshield is much larger than its rearview mirror.  When you are driving the car, you need to spend your time looking forward.  It is OK to look back every once in a while; but if you spend too much time looking in the mirror at what is behind you, you will eventually crash into what is ahead of you.

2018-10-11 FocusFocus your coaches and players on this opponent, this week. Control what you can control. I’ve noted before, I love the game of football for its parallels to life. Life is unpredictable, and when a ball has points on its end, the ball doesn’t always bounce the way one expects. Football forces us to confront those unanticipated bounces and decide what to do next. Further, football often hands us the unexpected when confronted with daunting combinations of fatigue and stress.

What are you going to do now Coach? (The whole community is watching…)

What’s next Quarterback? (Your teammates are looking for your example…)

How about you Senior Letterman? (Every underclassmen’s eyes are on you…)

This game, like life, demands mental toughness, the ability to endure and to focus on the goals and objectives you’ve led your team to pursue. Jack Clark, the University of California Rugby Coach who holds more NCAA Division I National Championships than any coach, in any sport, defines mental toughness as the unrelenting ability to identify and execute the next most important thing… no matter what.

Put down the ifs and buts…

The next most important thing is this week’s game and this week’s opponent.

Get after ‘em!

That Ain’t It!

How a simple mantra reinforces culture…

Throughout the nearly two years I’ve been sharing thoughts on this blog, and for more than 30 as both a player and a coach, I’ve learned and emphasized the importance of “culture” as a core component of success. Culture will develop one way or another. As a head coach, part of the leadership responsibility is to ensure the development of the culture you want your team to emulate.

Common vision, values, purpose, and goals unite teams and build cohesion. Those attributes are underpinned by character and personal example. Personal example is often reinforced by words; words that sometimes take on “mantra’ like status. I was told by a friend who is both a leadership expert and a US Marine Corps General, “When you’re just about tired of saying it, they’re just starting to hear it.”

We have established a culture at St Johnsbury Academy of how we do things as Hilltopper Football Players.  You’ve heard me say (or read here previously) “Do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.” There is a very specific way we do everything whether it is football related (blocking, tackling, running, catching) or personal conduct on and off the field.  When any players’ action fails to uphold our performance standards, I often say the phrase, “that ain’t it.”  Apparently, it has been picked up by our students as noted in the email below from our defensive coordinator, John Lovett, who is also a history teacher and dorm proctor at the Academy.

FYI, the phrase “that ain’t it” has permeated the culture of the school. Three times today alone, and many other times before I have heard students say this about behaviors or ideas that are not what we are looking for. Your words are famous! Most of these students have no relation to the football program and still understand the idea of meeting a standard of thought and behavior.

Observable behaviors or actions that do not meet expectations are now being corrected with a simple phrase, “that ain’t it.” It’s become our way of reinforcing “do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason,” and the adoption of the phrase and its use by students other than our players is a great sign of the positive effects of our team on campus-wide culture. How do you reinforce culture in your team, family, partnership, or organization? What are the signs your efforts to develop culture are beginning to stick?

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 your time!


Coach to Cure Muscular Dystrophy

2018-09-27 Coach to Cure MDThis weekend, football coaches all over the country will wear a Coach to Cure MD patch on their sleeve during games.  Coach to Cure MD is a partnership between the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. One reason the AFCA was drawn to Coach To Cure MD was because of the unique parallels between Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a disorder which robs young men of precious muscle strength, and football; a game where young men are at the peak of their muscle strength.  The goals are to raise national awareness of the disorder and raise money to fund research for a cure.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating and progressive muscle disorder that only affects boys, causing a loss of both muscle function and independence. DMD affects approximately 1 out every 3500 boys born worldwide. It is the most common, lethal genetic disorder diagnosed during early childhood. Nearly all boys with DMD die by their late teens or early 20s from respiratory and/or cardiac complications.

When I was the offensive coordinator at The College of New Jersey, news of this disease rocked our hometown of Hamilton, NJ.   Our son Shane’s first-grade teacher shared the news that her son Ryan had been diagnosed with DMD. Maria and David Schultz have fought every day to bring awareness to and raise funds for a cure for DMD through the creation of Ryan’s Quest.  To make a donation and bring hope to families you can visit http://join.parentprojectmd.org or http://www.ryansquest.org 2018-09-27 Coach to Cure MD Ryans Quest

When I was the head coach at Castleton State College, the Schultz family drove up to Vermont so that Ryan could be an honorary captain at a home game when we brought awareness through Coach to Cure MD.  Last season, at St Johnsbury Academy, we had one of our students afflicted with the disease join us for the coin toss and we collected donations during the game. Although we will be on the road for this weekend’s game, our staff will be wearing the patch and we will take the opportunity to share how very fortunate our players are to have been blessed with such strong bodies and the ability to play this great game.

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 your time!


2018-09-20 ParityThree weeks into the 2018 season and every Division 1 team in the state of Vermont has at least one loss.   I just read an email from one of our TV sports anchors addressed to every coach asking if anyone can recall the last time that has happened.  Certainly not in my five years as a Vermont high school football coach.


In 2014, my second year at the Academy, we made our first state championship game appearance with a 10-0 record.  Our opponent that year had the same record.  I believe it was the first time two Division 1 teams in Vermont ever came into the championship game undefeated.

Last year, during our undefeated 2017 season, we had a couple of close games; but still wound up winning them all and outscoring our opponents 435 – 179.  We went into every game feeling quite confident we were the better team.  This year, our coaches and players recognize every opponent brings talented athletes and teams much more closely matched in capability and experience.  With no “easy weeks” on the schedule, our players bring great motivation into the weight room, spirited attitude and performance to practices, and focused attention and questions to video sessions.

The upperclassmen we hoped would pick up the mantle of leadership are doing so and we’re also seeing some younger players personal examples standing out as peer leaders. While we as coaches would like to take credit for setting the culture and conditions for the team’s emotional growth, it’s more important to recognize the elevated attention to detail and focus we’re seeing in the phases of practice and preparation reflect the student-athletes who have taken it upon themselves to lead by example. The players’ pursuit of excellence also serves as a motivator for us as coaches. Just as “steel sharpens steel,” there’s a complementary symbiosis to the relationship.

Our critical responsibility as coaches continues to be effective communication. We must develop, communicate, clarify and confirm game plans, situational context, and special circumstances teammates can implement and execute together.

It’s not uncommon to hear people in the media talking about “circling an opponent on their schedule,” as particularly challenging or key to a season’s success. This season, we have a circle around all of them and it has made coaching as exciting and important as it has ever been in my 30 years in the profession. Thanks for joining us on the journey!

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 your time!

Do the Right Thing, at the Right Time, for the Right Reason…

Earlier this summer I talked about the importance of moving through the teambuilding steps and the recognition that together, we are so much more powerful than any of us could be alone. As the team runs through early phases of drills and practice, we try to create opportunities for players to recognize their inability to succeed by themselves. Whether players feel personally in need or recognize someone else who is struggling, the staff creates scenarios where the only path to success is through teamwork.

Both on the field and off, we ask players to put the interests of the team and their teammates ahead of their own… to be generous with their time and effort, and to make a conscious decision to help others.

For the past three years, the St Johnsbury Academy football team has gathered with other members of our community on a Sunday 2018-09-13 St J Walk to End Alzheimer'sin September to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.  We believe it is a great opportunity to give back to the community and support a worthy cause.

Our community has been so supportive of Hilltopper Football (and other sports!) over the years, turning out to support the community is the least we could do. The Walk to End Alzheimer’s gives us the opportunity to extend the team’s interdependence out into the local community, and the return on investment is extraordinary.

Below is an email from the director of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s:

Good Morning Coach,

      I wanted to thank you again for having your family and team join us for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.  It’s simply incredible how your team’s presence brings so much joy and hope to the families struggling with this disease.  Please extend a personal thank you to your team from myself and the entire Walk to End Alzheimer’s committee.  They should be very proud of themselves for taking part in such an important cause. 

 Not only does the community appreciate our participation, we reinforce the pattern of putting others’ interests ahead of our own. We practice the ethics we preach and in doing so, carry forward the Hilltopper example beyond the confines of the campus. Our team’s example (choices, words, and deeds) can either add to the culture or detract. It is unfortunately all too obvious in today’s day and age how one “Aw Shucks…” can take away a thousand “Attaboys!”

As I’ve noted elsewhere in the blog over the last 18 months, the staff and I know all too well the season ends and classes graduate in the blink of an eye. The lessons we teach are intended first to serve players on the field, but also to endure for a lifetime. Investing in our team and culture both on and off the field pays dividends for years to come.

Our time is our most valuable non-renewable resource. During the season, demands on coaches and players make time even more precious…. But there’s always time to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason. Giving back to a community that gives so much to us is worthy of our time, talent, and treasure.

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 your time!

Good Call or Bad Call?

Coaches Make Decisions…

I remember watching a Patriots v Colts game several years ago where the Patriots had a 4th down and short in their own side of the field late in the game.  They had one of the best QBs in football, a dynamic isolation receiver, and only needed 2 or 3 yards to get a first down, secure the win, and burn the clock.

Conventional thinking would be to punt the ball away and play defense, but they would be giving the ball to the other “best QB in the league,” with plenty of time to score.  The Pats decided to go for it, the pass fell incomplete, and they wound up losing the game on a short field touchdown.  I recall thinking how bold and brilliant that call was, but the next day I heard all of sports talk radio criticizing the call made by one of the greatest coaches the game has ever known.  Why the criticism?  It was the right thing to do, with the right people, at the right time.  It just did not work.

Coaching is Coaching

Fast forward to our game this past Saturday.  We opened our season with the team we defeated in the state championship game last year, who is also the team who defeated us in the 2016 state championship.  The game was back and forth.  They had a dominant running game and we dominated in the air.  During the first 3 successful Points after touchdown, I noticed that they were only rushing 2 guys off our right side and were not rotating anyone over to cover for them.

I had made the decision in the first half that if this is still a back and forth game in the fourth quarter we would fake and go for two.  Playing them in overtime did not favor us.  Their success on the ground gave them a decided advantage on the short field, and short fields are no friend of the passing game.  So when we got the ball in the fourth trailing by 7, (28-21), I told our QB that when we score, we will fake and go for two.  It was the right thing to do with the right people at the right time, but the ball fell to the ground incomplete.  We wound up losing 35-33.

Good call or bad call?

I posed that same question to a longtime friend and student of the game. He responded:

“Good Call… Remember, the ball has points, and therefore like life, bounces in unpredictable ways.  You make the best call you can given the information available at the time, and let the chips fall.”

What do you think? Good call or bad call?

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 your time!