Story and Photo by Matthew Yoder
This year’s Arcadia High Firebirds are determined to build upon the positive results of last season, which ended with the team’s first foray into playoff football in a number of campaigns.
Head Coach Alan Hall is entering his second full season and his disciplined, confident approach has improved his squad and put other local teams on notice. Asked when preparation began for this season, coach Hall boisterously responded, “The day after the season ended last year.”
“We’re pumped, we have 17 seniors eating at the bit, ready to go,” Hall said.
His sentiment is shared by the more than 60 varsity and JV athletes practicing through the twilight in 88-degree, challenging August conditions.
“I know we’re going to be able to go somewhere this year,” said captain and starting left tackle Ryan Rose.
Rose, who is only in his second year playing organized football, has wowed coaches with his skill and determination. He answers questions wisely and candidly, and speaking about 2018 said, “Last season was a taste of something, and before you’re successful you taste it.”
One thing very apparent as coaches and players take a break to share thoughts in the heat is the mutual respect they feel and extend to one another. A lot of these athletes have been competing with one another from an early age, but the coaching staff is relatively new and they came aboard intent on strengthening the concept of team, teaching proper technique, and encouraging their players to set a strong example in the community.
Their effect is evidenced by the mature, respectful demeanor of the players.
Senior captain and wide receiver Airey Finney said of Hall and his staff, “They know the tactics of the game, there was a big difference when they came in.”
“They give us respect, we give it back,” Finney added.
The proof is also in the results. Wins, school records in points last year, and a group of strong athletes distinguished this team as fifth most improved out of 307 teams statewide.
With such a dramatic turnaround, Coach Hall wanted his team to expand beyond the shore and challenge his team this preseason with intimidating competition. This past weekend the team traveled with 22 players to Edenton, N.C., to scrimmage with teams from the 5A and 6A divisions, teams sporting D-1 and D-2 collegiate talent. Coach Hall believes the best path to becoming, “bigger, stronger, faster,” is to play “bigger competition,” and in this condensed weekend Hall believed his team, “kept pace with everybody.”
Hall was particularly fond of his team’s comraderie and inquisitiveness. He spoke of how they had meaningful interactions with opposing teams outside of the games and they picked the brains of the players and coaches they competed against. The Firebirds themselves used the scrimmages to test new schemes headed into the regular season. The team will travel this weekend with their full squad to Dagsboro, Del., to compete in another similar multi-team scrimmage.
A first-time observer of this team sees the goals are large and the urgency with so many seniors is palpable.
Senior captain and quarterback Lethon Williams said the path they’ve all been striving toward is the first home playoff game and win in years. As captain, he appears to relish his position to “keep everybody on track and shine down on my teammates as a role model.”
Back on the practice field, the coaches are not quick to single out games and rivals headed into this season. For some players, rivalries are more definable.
Tiair Bibbins, captain and standout on the defensive end of the ball, was very well-spoken when talking of where this team has come.
“Last year’s home game with Nandua made us,” he said.
In that game the defense made an end of the game goal-line stand to preserve victory.
Bibbins talked of how Arcadia “were always the outcasts,” but the disciplined approach of coaches has helped to bring everybody together and Bibbins said, “the level of chemistry on this team is rising.”
So much was said of Coach Hall and his staff, a group complemented by physical therapists, a radiologist, and veterans, with Hall himself a combat veteran.
“I hire good people, we’re all professionals,” Hall said.
On this muggy August evening a group from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is also present, handing Popsicles during breaks and serving as another set of eyes, and ultimately spirit to foster the sense of community and pride growing here.
Hall believes these kids are buying into a system that works and sees it extending beyond just the game.
“They know in life situations we are here for them,” Hall said.
Wins will ultimately measure success for this team on the field in 2019 for Hall, but “watching the children strive to improve on the field and in life,” is of equal importance for coaches.
“We’re building a stronger support system all around and excitement from the community is growing,” said Bibbins.
It’s apparent through spirited passing drills and conversation this team believes it can win in bunches.
“Last year’s hard losses have reinforced the program,” said assistant coach Dan Macca.
And when this year’s Firebirds enter the field, competition and rivals will be, “Anybody on the field with us that day,” said Macca.
Arcadia opens the season this Thursday on the road in Eastville against Northampton High School.