Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Archive for April, 2020


Posted by admin April - 26 - 2020 - Sunday Comments Off on BEST PLAYERS I EVER COACHED

            My high school coach, Billy O’Brien, at Great Bridge HS in Chesapeake, VA wrote a book years ago that I enjoyed immensely.  I just recently RE-read it.  One subject that he remarked about was that “people were always asking me ‘who was the best player you ever coached,  Billy?!’”  Interestingly, I’ve had that same question posed to me numerous times over the years. 

            So…. I decided to “steal a page” from Coach O’Brien’s book and do a rather unique version of my Best Players I Ever Coached … during my 22 years (1985- 2006) as the Head Football Coach at Western Branch HS.  I say “unique” because you are going to find some “different” categories than you might expect to see in this sort of “all star” list.  The thanks for the concept goes to Coach O’Brien; who I’m sure was trying to give as many of us who played for him the recognition that he felt we all deserved!

            I included categories that indicate those attributes and achievements that I feel are just as significant as being a great “on-the-field” football player.  This listing also expresses some of the best memories that I have when looking back over a successful 22-year career.  

            In this time of government-directed quarantine, I thought that this list would stir up a LOT of “discussion” on Facebook!  Please know that I tried very hard to include as many of the outstanding young men with whom I had the pleasure of coaching at WBHS.  I hope there won’t be too many hurt feelings. It was an honor to coach all of you!

            Feel free to share this list.  Any mistakes in years that these young men played for me or the college they attended is due to poor research (or failing memory!) on my part.

Here we go:

BEST FOOTBALL PLAYER: Vince Hall (99-02), Virginia Tech

BEST ATHLETE: Dre Bly (92-94), UNC


BEST PRO PLAYER: Dre Bly (92-94), St. Louis Rams; Detroit Lions; and Denver Broncos

ALL-AROUND FOOTBALL PLAYER: ***Reggie Jordan (75-76), Pitt


TOUGHEST FOOTBALL PLAYERS: Blair Gregory (91-92); Mark Edmondson (94-95)

“IRON MAN”— BEST 2-WAY PLAYERS: Anthony Wolfe (96-97), Elon College; Keif Gordon (86-88), Richmond & Norfolk State

MOST INTELLIGENT: Daniel Tanner (01-02), Harvard University; Matt Cannella (03-04), Penn State

MOST COURAGEOUS: Justin Davis (86-88), JMU; Darryl Walton (93-96)

MEANEST FOOTBALL PLAYERS: Roy Norfleet (01-02), Elizabeth City State; Omar Hurdle (96-97)

FASTEST PLAYER: Darren Walton (93-96), Hampton University

BEST DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Frank LaMagna (96-97); Jaye Holland (00-01)                                       

BEST DEFENSIVE ENDS: Antonio Burt (010-02), Bridgewater; Jason Chandler (99-00), CNU;

BEST INSIDE LINEBACKERS: Vince Hall (99-02), Virginia Tech; Kenny Holland (86-87)

BEST OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: Roy Norfleet (01-02), Elizabeth City State; Carlton Bitgood (98)

BEST DEFENSIVE BACK/FREE SAFETY: (tie) Jarnae Somerville (98-99), Norfolk State; Lamonte Stanfield (01-03)

BEST DEFENSIVE BACK/STRONG SAFETY: Lorenzo Ferguson (93-95), Virginia Tech & Western Carolina        

BEST DEFENSIVE BACK/CORNERS: Jason Parker (95-96), University of Houston; Daniel Tanner (01-02), Harvard

BEST PASS RECEIVER:  Kien Windley (02-03)

BEST ROUTE RUNNER: Stuart Baiza (00), CNU

BEST DEEP RECEIVER: Darren Walton (94-96), Hampton University


BEST HANDS I’VE EVER SEEN: Josh Baker (02-04), University of Delaware & NW Missouri State; NY Jets

BEST ALL-AROUND END: Emmett Johnson (97), Virginia Tech

BEST TACKLES: Todd Hollowell, Wake Forest (92-94); Daniel Johnson (00-01)

BEST GUARDS: Brett Ainsley (02-05), JMU; Brandon Carr (04-06), ODU

BEST CENTERS: Bryan Johnston (92-94); Matt Boykins (00-02), CNU

BEST TIGHT END: Rayshawd Barkley (98-99), Liberty University

MOST VERSATILE OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Michael Wood (00-02), Hofstra University

BEST RUNNING BACK: Shyrone Stith (93-95), Virginia Tech

MOST EXCITING RUNNER: Keith Burnell (96-97), Virginia Tech

BEST FULLBACK: Malik Cook (93-95)


BEST WINGBACK: (tie) Rashad Cook (96-97), Virginia State; Quentin Forbes (01-02), VMI

MOST ELUSIVE RUNNING BACK: Devin Fentress (03-04), Penn State


BIGGEST BACK I EVER COACHED:  Marvin Urquhart (95-98), Virginia Tech

FASTEST RUNNING BACK: Courtland Marriner (03-05), William and Mary

TOUGHEST RUNNER: Hykeem Brodie (06), Penn State


MOST ATHLETIC QUARTERBACK: Kevin Newsome (05-06), Penn State


MOST DECEPTIVE QUARTERBACK: Magic Johnson (96-98), Norfolk State

BEST PASSING COMBINATION:  Ryan Pond to Kien Windley (03)

BEST PUNTER: Daniel Dussia (93-94)

BEST KICKER: Brian Dawson (01-02)

BEST KICK RETURNER: Doug Casper (02)

BEST KICK BLOCKER:  Lamonte Stanfield (02-03)

UNSUNG HERO AWARD: Pete Conroy, QB (04)

BEST “LITTLE MAN” PLAYER:  Offense: Travis Bullock (98-99); Defense: Jeremy Cooper (98)


BEST LEADER: Jason Davis (98), CNU; Darien Kearney (05-06)

MOST INSPIRATIONAL: Brian Neas (87-88); Gino Martin (04-05)


PLAYERS WHO BECAME PASTORS: Mark Thomas (85); Keith Vinson (85); Matt Stafford (85-86); Quentin Battle (94-95); Anthony Wilkins (98-99); Jason Knight (01-02)




BEST HIGH SCHOOL COACHES THAT I COACHED: Robert Decker (85); Rashad Cook (96-97); Rashawd Barkley (98-99); Justin Conyers (04-06)


***Reggie Jordan played for WBHS in 1975-76 when I was an Assistant Coach.  Reggie was going to sign with the University of Pittsburgh (who’d just won the NCAA National Championship with Tony Dorsett) before he was tragically killed in a car/train wreck near his home in Cedar Grove off of Airline Blvd.  Reggie is still THE greatest football player (pound for pound/inch for inch!) that I ever coached!!!

“Adjust On the Run!”

Posted by admin April - 21 - 2020 - Tuesday Comments Off on “Adjust On the Run!”

I recall standing in front of the team one day before preseason practice was to start. In August, we get a LOT of afternoon thunderstorms in Coastal Virginia. It was pouring outside. We weren’t going out to our practice field for at least an hour. Looking at our coaches, I asked, “Can we get in the gym?” “No,” was the reply. “The soccer team is in there,” he said. “OK…..” I queried, “How about the Middle School gym at the other end of the campus?” One coach said, “We’ve never practiced in there before, Coach J.” I stated, “Well, please go find out if it’s available.” And off he went. Arriving back 5 minutes later, he said, “The AD says that we can use it!” So… down to the Middle School gym we went!

I learned early in my head coaching career that things won’t always go according to plan. I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ll a “tip of the hat” to Mike Tyson. He said that “everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth the first time! Now what are you going to do?!” My recommendation is: you better be able to ADJUST ON THE RUN!

In Mike Leach’s book on the famous Indian warrior, Geronimo, he states that “Improvisation is key. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what you don’t have. Think about the resources you DO have and how you can best use them.” Soooooooooo true! With the U.S. Cavalry chasing him all over New Mexico and Arizona, Leach writes, “For months, Geronimo used all his craft, guile, leadership skills and toughness to reamin nearly invisible to the army.” Rather than fretting over what he and Apache band lacked, Geronimo adapted and succeeded in outwitting the army. Geronimo knew how to improvise.

Coaches need to do the same thing. Instead of lamenting over the personnel that you lack, look at what/who you have and ask: How can I best utilize their talents to maximize our chance of success? You don’t have time to sit around and complain about what you lack. Focus on the the people you have and how you can best coach them.

This is what led me to the Delaware Wing T offense in the first place. We had pretty good speed. I had an excellent offensive line coach; but, we lacked size on the line. A coaching friend encouraged me to look into the Wing T. “It’s created for small, aggressive offensive linemen,” he stated. We learned the offense and “improvised” until we got the right people in the right places. For 15 straight seasons, we had winning records.

Then, as I learned more and more about our offense, I also discovered how to “adjust on the run” during a game. I don’t know where I first heard it but it makes sense: “If you have a cannon, fire it!” Find your star and hitch a ride. Over the years, we’d adjust our attack based on the personnel we had. While I preferred the running attack, when we had a 6’3 230 QB with a rifle arm… we threw it all over the place! He threw for almost 7,000 yards and 75 touchdown passes in his career. Then, in my last year as a head coach, we had a good athlete at QB but he was not a great passer. So, we gave it to our star running back— 212 times for 2,112 yards! We won a state championship with him leading our offense. Oh… and we had a darn good Defensive Coordinator who knew how to improvise too! We only had 17 or 18 guys on the team who could really play. (Yes! A lot of guys played both ways.) So, he “mixed and matched” all season long to keep us one step ahead of offenses.

Learn to adjust on the run! Don’t get bogged down by the naysayers who want to tell you that “we’ve never done it that way before!” Well, maybe that way is exactly the way you need to do things to be successful! Be willing to improvise and find a solution.

Ingredients in “PROPER” Preparation!

Posted by admin April - 16 - 2020 - Thursday Comments Off on Ingredients in “PROPER” Preparation!

I spent an enjoyable 40 minutes earlier today talking on Facebook Live with one of my former players who now lives and works in California. Matt Stafford: if you’re reading this… “Thank You!” I appreciate the invitation to speak. It’s always a joy to share what wisdom the Lord has bestowed upon me over the years with others who are striving to be successful in their life.

Matt asked me to explain my “5 P’s of Success” axiom to his viewers. It forced me to dig a little deeper— in exploring exactly what PROPER preparation entails. Here are the thoughts that I came up with:

1- PRECISION. I talked about this in a previous post. It really impacted me while reading Coach Mike Leach’s book, Geronimo. If you are going to prepare properly, you must PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS! I will quote (again) the statement from Coach Leach when he says in his book that “Anything that they wanted to be good at, they practiced and trained for with as much precision as possible.” Soooooo good!

2- PERSISTENCE. We give up too easily! When faced with obstacles that are impeding our progress, how do we respond? I shared on the show what I learned from Pastor Bill Hybels. He said that “most obstacles appear to be brick walls…. when in reality, most are made of tissue paper.” With a little persistence, we can often break through—- IF we will just stick to our plan!

3- PASSION. One of my high school coaches said something 55 years ago that still sticks with me. “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm!” True! When we have a passion for something, it shows in all aspects of our work. We are going to focus on the little things. We are going to be persistent. We are going to be strategic in our planning. Our level of enthusiasm will dictate how far we go in achieving a goal. Another axiom that I’ve used a lot is “Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?!” (Appropriate as we wait out this pandemic!) A positive attitude is a by-product of the level of passion we possess. When you are passionate about achieving a goal, your energy level is high… your enthusiasm will capture other’s minds and propel them toward achieving the goal with you.

These are just 3 of the qualities that I believe explain what “proper” preparation looks like. I’d love to hear from you, my readers, to hear of any other qualities that you’ve discovered that go into making your preparation proper. The only requirement is: you have to be creative and only use words that start with “P“!!! OK??? Blessings, Lew

5 P’s of Success

Posted by admin April - 7 - 2020 - Tuesday Comments Off on 5 P’s of Success

I continue to find “nuggets of gold” in this Mike Leach book on Geronimo, the famous Apache warrior. It is rich with information.

A point that struck me yesterday reinforced a key aspect of any successful leader’s program. It ties in with the foundation of my coaching philosophy… the 5 P’s of Success. They are:

PROPER Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Leach points to the Apache way of life as THE factor in creating great warriors. He points out that the Apache culture embraced Discipline, Practice and Daily Routine. Leach says that these were “all a part of their daily lives. Anything they wanted to be good at, they practiced and trained for with as much precision as possible.” Key word: PRECISION! This is what it meant by “Proper” preparation. You can’t just go through the motions and expect your players to improve! One of my coaching mentors hammered into me to “pay attention to details!” I know that this was a determining factor in the amount of success that teams that I led enjoyed. Why? Because I always looked to hire coaches who were excellent teachers. They knew how to instruct.

People talk a lot about “creating a culture” in our football programs. You need to find a culture that breeds discipline, toughness and competitiveness. You’d do well to study the Apaches under Geronimo’s leadership!