FORT DEFIANCE – Dan Rolfe knows what some people are saying about him and his team. No, they don’t say it to his face. And, no, he doesn’t directly hear it. But Rolfe has been around long enough to know the nature of sports fans. If a football team has just one win over two seasons and is coming off a winless campaign, fans are going to talk. Most of that talk will be negative.
As the Fort Defiance coach said Wednesday afternoon after practice, he’s the same coach now, after an 0-10 season, as he was when he was taking Benedictine to the playoffs before coming to Fort Defiance.
Well, there are a few differences. For one, Rolfe is now restricted to watching practice from a golf cart after rupturing his Achilles tendon this summer. And, he’s now the coach who has to convince kids they can win games after having no proof of it in recent memory.
Rolfe understands why Fort fans are frustrated. He’s frustrated.
“Truthfully, it makes you reevaluate who you are as a coach,” he said. “It makes you evaluate maybe some of the things you’ve done.”
What he isn’t reevaluating is the commitment of his players. All he has to do is look at his practice field and the 65 players who came out for the team this year. That’s roughly the same number of players the team had last season. That’s huge. Any sports team that goes winless can usually expect numbers to be down the next year. Putting in the offseason work needed to be part of the team in the fall is tough enough if you’re playing for a winner. Playing for a losing team isn’t nearly as attractive.
The veteran players have taken notice.
“I was really, really excited to know that people weren’t just going to give up on this team,” said Fort Defiance senior Zach Boyers. “They just want to play football for this team. It really makes me feel good as a leader to know that they really care.”
That’s why I’m rooting for Fort Defiance this year. Yeah, I know, I’m supposed to be neutral, but come on, who’s not rooting for some success at Fort this season? Not success as in a state championship or even a playoff berth, maybe. But is it too much to ask for two or three wins, something to build upon, something to keep the kids motivated and show them that the work they’ve put in wasn’t without reward?
These are high school kids, but they know what people are saying about them. They read Twitter. They look at the message boards. They hear their classmates in the hallways at school, classmates who, for the record, aren’t willing to come out and bust their butts in the hot August sun to help turn things around. It’s not always pretty. Boyers said the returning players know how terrible it felt to not win a game last year and they want to do something about it.
“We can’t stand to feel that again,” he said. “Being the laughingstock of the Valley, you know, no one taking us seriously.”
The Fort players don’t want to be the team circled on everyone’s schedule as a certain win. They’re tired of the jokes and they’re tired of the negativity. And they want all of that to end this season. Here’s to hoping it does.