Coach Russell’s Ruminations – October

In this great game of ours, we talk a lot about the culture of our programs. We frequently use terms like “family” and “one heartbeat”. An interaction I had with a player recently led me to spend some time thinking about these terms, and how they tie in to other factors a successful team might have.

Early this season, one of my freshman linebackers was having some issues, which were causing him to question if he wanted to continue as a college football player in our program. This particular young man is very, very talented, but he had been injured for a large portion of training camp, and was having some trouble picking up the defense. While I was quite sure that being on the sidelines for the first time was a major factor in his frustration, it got to a point where a conversation was needed.

He came in and voiced some concerns which, frankly, were all very common things I hear from young players who are away from home for the first time, not starting for the first time, etc. One particular statement struck me, however. He said, “this team isn’t a family like my high school team”. Now, to be honest, I was taken aback. Immediately upon arriving at Norwich in 2008, I noticed that this program is extremely tight-knit. As we continued talking, I kept thinking about his statement. I finally came to the realization that, for a freshman – particularly one less than a semester into his college career – it ISN’T a family. That thought led me to another realization; that is, for those players, it shouldn’t be.

Unlike a family you are born into, a team is a family you have to EARN your way into. You’re surrounded by a locker room full of young men who have already invested a great deal of their lives into their program. I don’t think it’s fair to expect these guys to automatically accept others into their family the day they walk through the door. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that. In our program, we ask our players to do three things: work hard, have a good attitude, and be tough. Over 8 years, I can tell you that any man who does those three things not only becomes a part of the family, he is a part of the family for life. However, he earns his way into the family by doing what the others have already done. I, for one, think this is pretty reasonable.

To be clear, I DO expect our players to respect and mentor our new guys. We tell our upperclassmen that they are responsible to teach the new players what our program is all about, and how we go about things. They do a terrific job, by the way. Once a guy shows that he is bought in and will do what is asked of a Norwich football player, he is a brother for life. I just happen to think it’s okay for that to be earned, rather than given.

By the way, the player stuck with us, got healthy, and is a major contributor on special teams and now has a great relationship with his teammates.

I’d love to hear feedback from any coaches on this particular subject. Maybe I’m right, and maybe I’m dead wrong. If you’d like to tell me something, I’m always willing to listen and learn. I can be reached at