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Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Brubaker leading Spring-Ford to new heights

This column was originally published in the Nov. 20, 2012, edition of The Mercury.
Sometimes it isn’t about how big or how fast a player a coach sends out onto the football field as it is exactly who that imposing over-sized lineman or that lightning-quick running back may be.
As every coach readily admits, it’s awfully difficult, if not impossible, to measure, weigh or even clock those players’ character.
Character is the backbone of an athlete, and it distinguishes the strength and soul of a team as well as its confidence. And certainly not always, but way, way more often than many choose to believe, it is the foundation of any successful program.
Character … not only knowing how to do everything the correct way on and off the field as well as in and out of school, but committing to it.
It is exactly what Chad Brubaker was looking for when he interviewed for the head coaching position a Spring-Ford a little over two years ago.
“I was impressed with the quality of the people I met with,” Brubaker said shortly after being approved as the Rams’ new coach.” They were up front with me, and the fact they held character as a priority is what really got me excited about the position.”
Brubaker demanded that character — and pledged not to accept anything less — when he first opened camp that summer, too.
“We said we were going to strive to do things the right way,” Brubaker explained this past weekend. “The first year, I think the experience of traveling down to Sussex Tech (Del.) helped our kids understand our (coaching) staff was leading the program in that direction — the right direction.
“On our way down we stopped in Dover to do a walk-through at Wesley College and had a great sit-down mean at a local restaurant. We beat a good Sussex team, and then came back home and beat Owen J. Roberts the following week in front of a huge crowd. I think they understood at that point what we were trying to achieve.”
The Rams didn’t just understand it, they bought into it.
“We’re proud of our kids,” Brubaker continued. “Whether it’s a fundraiser we do or a restaurant we visit for a pre-game meal, I constantly get emails and personal comments about how polite, respectful and appreciative our kids are. That’s a credit to our players’ parents, a credit to the expectations (high school principal) Pat Nugent puts on them in school, and the expectations we’ve set as standards for them in our program. We’re as proud of all that as any of the wins we’ve had.”
And don’t think Brubaker and his staff weren’t thinking that after last Friday night’s 28-26 upset of previously unbeaten and state-ranked Ridley in their District 1-Class AAAA quarterfinal down in Delaware County.
The Spring-Ford coaches were certainly thrilled while watching the Rams take a shocking 28-0 lead at the break. Then, after outlasting the Green Raiders’ gallant second-half comeback, the coaches were obviously ecstatic after their team’s second-straight win — and first two postseason wins in the history of the Spring-Ford football.
But what Brubaker initially chose to talk about the following day occurred long before Friday evening’s opening kickoff … and it had to do with yet another team meal, this one in a restaurant just around the corner from Ridley High School.
“I hope I don’t get her in trouble,” Brubaker explained, “but a server at the restaurant said to me, ‘My children graduated from Ridley and I love Ridley, but I’m rooting for Spring-Ford tonight because of how respectful and how polite your players and managers were here. I’ve never seen anything like this.’ I think that says it all about our kids.”
Brubaker was an assistant for three seasons at Elizabethtown High School. He moved on to Wilson in West Lawn, where he spent eight seasons under Jim Cantafio and another three under current Bulldogs coach Doug Dahms before taking on his first head coaching job at Spring-Ford.
At the time, Wilson was (and actually still is) one of the premier programs in District 3-AAAA and throughout the state. Spring-Ford was in a slump.
“Well, I was really impressed with the ability level of the players on the roster when I first arrived (at Spring-Ford),” Brubaker said. “But we didn’t have the commitment to becoming stronger, which I was used to (at Wilson).
“I also personally struggled a bit with my expectations versus (the players’ expectations), and felt we lost two games that first season we could’ve won. Last year, I felt we had the capability of making a run in the playoffs, but we ran into a match-up problem (against Coatesville) in the first round. This year, as a staff, we looked at the field and felt we could compete with every team. But playoffs become a game of attrition, so we’ll see.”
What Brubaker initially saw was promise, oh so similar to what he saw throughout his stay at Wilson. He opted to build on it.
“Both programs have great kids, great assistant coaches, and administrative support,” he explained. “When I accepted the position, my biggest concern was bringing on assistant coaches with the same vision that I had. I was, and continue to be, extremely fortunate.
“Steve Schein, Chad Strickler, Jim Mich, Jr., Dale Bergman and Steve Anspach were committed members of the staff, and we brought on some great younger coaches like Bob Swier, Shawn Smith and Jared Hostetler that first year. We’ve added Alex Fegley, Eric Hill, Jamie Cutaneo and D.J. Fox, and they’re the guys who make a difference. They are committed to what we are trying to accomplish, many of them without recognition and some without any compensation.”
Together, they guided the Rams to a turnaround 9-3 season in 2010, and a Pioneer Athletic Conference title, first postseason appearance and 10-2 overall mark last season. Thus far this season the Rams have dropped just one game – to then unbeaten and eventual PAC-10 champion Pottsgrove — have picked up those first two postseason wins, and own an 11-1 record going into Wednesday night’s final PAC-10 game with Phoenixville and then the weekend district semifinal showdown at Pennridge.
Not bad, of course, but a body of work not yet finished.
“What we are still working on is the program expectations,” Brubaker explained. “Obviously, we’ve made strides there, but we still need to learn how to put an opponent away. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ridley’s comeback (last Friday night), because it was an unbelievable effort on their part. But we had a chance to get a running clock with our first possession of the second half (but failed to score), and then ended up contributing greatly to them getting back into the game.
“Our defense gave up 500 yards of offense, and I would still say we played a great game on that side of the ball. Offensively, that was a different story. We still need to be patient and make good decisions offensively. When we do, we are very difficult to defend. When we don’t, we become average.”
Average has never been part of the game plan at Spring-Ford. And it wasn’t when the Rams kicked off the current season back in mid-August.
“We felt like, when healthy, we could compete with anyone,” Brubaker said. “We went up to West Lawn and scrimmaged Wilson. We didn’t finish some of our drives with scores, but we moved the ball up and down the field and (Wilson) struggled to run the ball against us. Those two things made us feel confident about our chances going forward. Coach Dahms and assistant Jeff Brubaker complimented our team after the game, and that made me feel pretty good because I have so much respect for them and their football knowledge.”
Much like a lot of coaches — and a whole heck of others away from the football field — who are beginning to respect Brubaker and his staff’s knowledge and work ethic at Spring-Ford..
“We’re going down to Pennridge with an opportunity to get into the District 1-AAAA final,” Brubaker said. “I still don’t believe we’ve played close to our best game yet in all three phases, either. So we need a great week of practice.”
And perhaps a good restaurant for that pre-game meal to innocently recruit another fan or two.


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