Thursday, November 23, 2017

Team unity helps Pasco turn a corner


Outside, a heavy squall pelted the bleachers as thunder rumbled in the distance. Pasco High football players huddled in the locker room for nearly two hours as they waited for their season to kick off.

During the delay, the team dimmed the lights and watched a video of motivational speaker Inky Johnson, a former University of Tennessee defensive back who suffered an injury during a game that left him paralyzed in his right arm.

Johnson talked about leadership, about teamwork, about persevering under difficult circumstances.

Once the game started, the Pirates put those lessons to use. They fell behind 10-0 against Hudson before rallying in a 22-10 win in the season opener.

The momentum carried over to the following week with a 46-0 win over Gulf.

Now, Pasco is 2-0 and has already surpassed its win total from last season.

"I think the biggest reason for the turnaround is the guys are buying into the team concept," Pirates coach Tom McHugh said.

It was not that long ago that Pasco was the dominant program in the county. From 2009-12, the Pirates won 38 straight regular-season games and made the state semifinals in 2011.

Since then, the program has been in a slow decline, going from 7-4 in 2013 to 1-9 last season. It was so bad a year ago that McHugh forbade the team to plant the school's flag on the field during warmups. He even did away with his traditional shirt-and-tie combo on game days.

"The team didn't deserve to have the flag," McHugh said. "And I didn't deserve to wear a shirt and tie for games."

McHugh kept trying to figure why things changed.

"I started going back to those great teams we had from a few years ago," McHugh said. "The one common trait is they played together. We needed to get that back."

McHugh weeded out the selfish players. There are only about 30 players on the varsity roster. But that small group became the essence of teamwork, the essence of grit.

The transformation started during wind sprints in practice. McHugh asked them who they played for.

One player said "me".

Another shouted "Pasco."

Halfway through, someone said "each other."

The players all agreed with the last one.

Now the flag has returned and McHugh is back to wearing his formal game-day ensemble. Not because the team is winning but because of the process they took to get there.

"That's what I was really after more than anything else," McHugh said.

He got the concept after watching one of Johnson's videos. Then he showed the motivational speeches to his team.

The players became hooked, especially linebacker Dylan Wood. The junior linebacker was the one who suggested the team watch the video during that fateful weather delay.

"We took everything to heart from what was said in that video, and I think is what helped us pull through and get that win," Wood said. "We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and we're depending on each other. That's what matters most."

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