With WPIAL playoffs set to start, coaches prep pep talks
Looking for a motivational tool to snap Seton-La Salle's streak of five consecutive first-round playoff losses, Lou Cerro compiled their lowlights on a VHS videotape.
Just minutes before kickoff, Cerro started screaming that it was time to finally win a WPIAL playoff game.
“I ejected the tape and said, ‘This is pretty disgusting, huh?' and I threw it across the locker room,” Cerro said. “It hit the wall and shattered into 4,000 pieces. It almost hit our trainer on the head. I didn't have to say anything else. They all just ran onto the field.”
Seton-La Salle defeated Center, 54-0, that night en route to winning the 2002 WPIAL Class AA championship.
“We'd have beaten anybody in the WPIAL that night,” said Cerro, now at defending WPIAL Class AAA champion Montour. “I tried it again five years later at Montour and we went out and got stomped by West A.”
With the WPIAL playoffs starting Friday, coaches are preparing their pre-game speeches, well aware that they can either serve as inspiration for a team with championship aspirations or ring hollow for one about to fall flat:
It's not about what you say but, rather, how you play.
“I don't think they're overrated at all,” Cerro said. “If they're not in the frame of mind at that time, shame on them. You just remind them of the task at hand and throw a nugget to put in the back of their memory for when they walk on the field. You have to keep everybody on the same mindset from warm-ups to kickoff. You can definitely burn them out.”
Where some coaches prefer to focus on the finer points of their football game plan, others take advantage of the emotions of the major moments in their players' prep football careers.
Knoch coach Mike King is known for his boisterous pre-game speeches, which have been known to echo through hallways.
But while leading the Knights to the WPIAL Class AAA final last year, King also has had to overcome the emotional toll of the sudden death of cheerleader Alexis Summers in an automobile accident. This season, Knoch dealt with the killing of all-time leading rusher Tim McNerney, who played at Washington & Jefferson.
King had tears in his eyes last year at Heinz Field. At Highlands last week, he reminded the Knights of that experience.
“They weren't in that locker room at Heinz Field last year,” he said. “They don't know you guys the way I know you guys. People have short-term memories, guys. All that matters is what you do right now, at this moment.”
Hempfield coach Rich Bowen, a PARADE All-American quarterback at Serra Catholic, prefers a business-like approach and lets his assistants do the talking.
“They have a place in high school football,” Bowen said of pep talks. “I'm not big on them. I never needed that to motivate me as a player.”
Neither does Spartans junior tackle Max Adams, even though he admits they can be effective.
“Pregame speeches don't matter,” Adams said, “unless you believe you can win when you get up in the morning.”
Hempfield assistant coach Buzz Bryan gave the pre-game speech on Senior Night. After a slow start, his voice rose as if he was delivering a sermon.
“We talked about how we were going to change things,” Bryan said. “You guys have changed Hempfield; we're not the same old Hempfield.”
Bryan used a prop, holding up a nail as the players gathered around, and told them that it served as a symbol of the rebuilding of the program.
“Believe in the nail,” he said. “It may bend but it never breaks.”
The same can't be said, however, for VHS videotapes.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812. Staff writers Bill Beckner and Paul Schofield contributed.