A hot cup of coffee and Nate Andrews’ coaching fire. What a great way to begin the high school football practice season.
I thought I had an idea of what to expect when I drove to Nappanee on Monday, Aug. 4, to hit the first official NorthWood High School drills with Andrews, the son of hometown coaching legend Jim Andrews. What I found out, and what the Panthers will learn quickly if they haven’t already, is there’s plenty to expect.
The two-hour workout was non-stop, pinball-like energy. Andrews meshed a careful blend of animated enthusiasm and straightforward, fatherly instruction.
"Have fun and sprint wherever you go,” Andrews told his squad as they gathered in the center of NorthWood’s practice field to begin the day.
Players looked like they were having fun. If they weren’t sprinting during each play, if they weren’t running back to the huddle or they weren’t racing on and off the field, they heard about it. Quickly.
The only jogging was when the team headed to lunch after practice. Attitude and accountability are the clear early goals for Andrews, his staff and his program.
"Coaching expections. And when I say expectation, I mean we’re going to demand a lot out of them,” Andrews said. “I think we’ve got to get back to doing things the right way. It’s the little things, the behind-the-scenes things.”
The little things. Like holding the football properly throughout a play, even after the play was completed.
I saw a receiver make a nice grab on a play and then carry the ball back to the huddle in a loose fashion.
"Stop! Freeze!” Andrews loudly said. ”How do you tuck a football?”
The player immediately stopped and re-gripped the ball, palm across the tip and pulled in tightly between his elbow and armpit. It was a textbook Football 101 moment.
"Now go back to where you caught the ball and do it again,” Andrews said in a firm, teaching tone.
Andrews made sure players were acknowledged for doing something properly as well as noting the mistakes. If players made the pass, caught the ball or linemen hit their marks, he lauded them by saying, “way to be coachable.”
When a quarterback made a poor throw to a wideout, Andrews made sure he told the QB to let the receiver know the throw was bad and good job trying to make the catch. Similarly, if a receiver made a great grab, Andrews wanted the passer to run to the receiver to congratulate him on the play.
One builds a program by first molding a team, the kind of team which appreciates and works together. It starts with communication, a word I heard 60 or 70 times over the course of the morning.
"Little things, little things, little things. I learned that from my dad first and foremost. I grew up with that exact same way,” Andrews said. “And I think, at the same time over the years, I’ve had a chance to groom them to make them my style. It’s everybody on this team. We’re a program, we need more program guys.”
Andrews also said that while working as an assistant at Zionsville under Hall of Fame coach Larry McWhorter he learned “coach the one through four and coach every rep” during preparation.
"That really sticks with me,” Andrews said. “It’s not just you only get reps if you’re a starter or you get looks if you’re on the depth chart. We need guys who bleed red and black, we need guys that work and know their role. And they might have to pay their dues by playing freshmen, then junior varsity for a year, two years, then maybe they earn their shot to be a starter as a senior.
“Those guys are so valuable to the program. In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s I know we had a lot of program guys. We need those guys.”
If Nate Andrews can find those kids, that’s being coachable, too.
Bill Beck is The Elkhart Truth sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org