Written by SportsDayDFW.com
McKinney football coaches develop character curriculum program
As they prepare to host Mansfield Legacy in their season opener next Friday, McKinney High School football coaches are putting their players though countless drills, from fine-tuning quarterbacks’ passing deliveries to honing linemen’s footwork.
Players there also face the demands of a “character curriculum,” designed to help equip them for challenges on the field and beyond.
A Football Journey, a collection of four books, is intended to help coaches offer their players a more holistic training experience.
Over the past two years, Darrick Ware and Shawn Copeland wrote and designed the series of books, which are part life lesson plan, part fitness logbook, part scrapbook.
“With high school, there’s a lot of searching in the dark. But these kids, their development and who they become is way too important for us to just leave it to chance,” Ware said.
“Sometimes you give advice but you’re just sitting back thinking, ‘I hope he makes the right decisions.’ So we came up with a way that we could walk our kids through decisions that they’re going to be faced with and give them ammo.”
Ware teaches 10th-grade English and coaches freshman track and football. Copeland coached football until recently moving to Arizona. They wrote all of the copy, pulling together information from sources as varied as Jack London’s Call of the Wild and academic studies.
There are four books, one for each year of high school. Each addresses challenges players may face during those times, like prepping for the SAT and ACT, getting ready to take a driver’s test and getting ready for the final game of their senior year.
Each year, coaches will start the week before the first game with a session on goal setting — goals for the team, for the individual on the field and in the classroom.
There’s a lesson for each of the 10 games. In total, there are 26 meetings with student athletes throughout the school year.
Lessons focus on what Ware calls “performance character traits,” such as mental toughness and perseverance under pressure, and “moral character traits,” such as honestly and empathy.
Some draw from major sports moments, such as “the flu game” when Michael Jordan played through a bout of food poisoning to help the Chicago Bulls win the 1997 NBA title. Another offers the cautionary tale of former Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent, who faces a charge of intoxication manslaughter in the December death of his teammate, Jerry Brown Jr.
Ware hopes players see that in the Brent tale “One day, one night, one mistake can change your life forever.”
There’s also the opportunity for coaches to incorporate stories from their own lives into the lessons.
Each lesson has an “overtime” section, which points players to afootballjourney.com where they’ll find links to videos from ESPN and other sources.
“I think sometimes people get a picture of coaches as win-at-all-costs, kind of like the Varsity Blues coach or the Rutgers coach who was throwing basketballs at kids,” Ware said.
But coaches do have a vested interest in their players development, said Jeff Smith, McKinney High’s head football coach and campus athletic coordinator.
“We all want to develop character in our kids and for them to be successful in life, not just while they’re here in school,” Smith said. “To do that, we need tools like this.”
Ware and Copeland spent countless hours outside of school working on the curriculum, Smith said.
The coaches then tested the lessons on last year’s freshman team.
Cameron Calhoun, who played slot receiver and defensive end on the team, remembers Ware sharing lessons from the movie 300 a few hours before McKinney played the larger Allen High School freshman team.
“It was really inspiring,” Calhoun said. “He told this little group of freshmen players that we were all soldiers.”
Though they lost the game, he said, “We fought hard and that’s what counts.”
McKinney’s 16 coaches will rotate the responsibility of the lessons among themselves.
“We want them to be champions,” said Ware, “not just in football, but be championship dads and championship bosses and to instill those traits in their kids.”
Ware and Copeland are working on a coed curriculum for junior high athletes and are hoping to adapt the books for other high school sports down the road.
So far, said Ware, nearly 130 schools in 19 states have ordered the books, which are printed in McKinney. Within Texas, there are 18 schools using the books. Covers can be customized with schools’ logos and mottos.
Seth Stinton, head football coach at Melissa High School, will use the books with his team beginning next week, leading up to the Cardinals’ first game.
“I was always trying to talk about character and leadership and personal issues with the team, but this is a lot more structured,” said Stinton, who is beginning his fifth year as Melissa’s coach.
“If you think about the amount of time that a high school athlete spends with a coach and with their teammates, it’s a lot more than what they spend with the parents most of the time.”
And for that reason, he said, coaches can have a major influence on a player’s life.
“There’s a lot of single-parent students out there that really need a father figure or a coach to take them by the arm and lead them in the right direction and be there for them,” Stinton said.
“I think these books are going to help them understand that football is just a game.”
Allen/Frisco/McKinney editor Eden Stiffman can be reached at 214-977-8486.