Commentary: Blue Devils organized for life success
by John Bednarowski
sportseditor@mdjonline.com
August 28, 2014 07:09 PM | 1256 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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All around Cobb County, football coaches are invested in their players.

They want to see them flourish on the field, in the classroom and in the community.

But before the coaches can provide any assistance, the players have to be able to help themselves. They have to be organized, and sometimes that proves to be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of success.

Marietta coach Scott Burton and his assistants may have found a simple solution to make that obstacle a mole hill rather than a mountain.

With the help of a sponsorship from the Marietta Housing Authority, Burton and his coaching staff provides each player with a simple, white, three-ring binder at a preseason meeting. In that binder, is what Burton hopes will be the start of, or a new aid to, good study habits.

“Every (player) gets a binder,” said Burton, who has used the same system with great success at each coaching stop he has made. “In it, there is paper, pens and dividers. Everything they need for each class every day.”

What it also holds is a player’s accountability.

When the player receives the binder, they are asked to sign a contract — “Marietta Football Academic Expectations.”

What are some of the expectations? Be on time for class and greet your teacher on the way in an on the way out. Sit in front of the class. Be proud to be a good student. Do your homework every night. Always ask for help before it’s too late. Tell your coaches if you are struggling in a particular class. Be respectful, and set high goals for yourself.

It seems like most of these are no brainers. But thinking back to high school how many people did you know that had all kinds of potential but sat in the back of the room with no direction?

Burton said some of the simple points of being successful are driven home at the preseason seminar, which the players attend with their parents, where the binders are distributed.

“I’ll ask the players, ‘How many of you have done a homework assignment and when you go to turn it in you can’t find it?’

“Nearly every hand goes up, and I see a lot of head nodding by the parents.”

Of course, the contract and the supplies only go so far. The paperwork inside the binder takes it to another level.

The system inside the binder is designed to make the players write everything down. There is the Blue Devil Football Homework Assignment Log. It is there for the players to record every homework assignment for each class and the date it is due.

There is also a Blue Devil Football Academic Progress Sheet. This sheet is given to the teachers, who fill it out as a weekly progress report. It must be signed by the teacher and the player hands it in to their position coach each Tuesday grades can be tracked and the bumps in the road can get fixed before they become serious problems.

In addition, the players each have two extra mandatory 90-minute study halls each week. If they fall behind, they will receive additional tutoring during their lunch period.

Burton said the program has paid big dividends. Not only has the football team’s grades improved significantly in the now five seasons he has been in Marietta, but the organization the students learn carry over to their performance on the field and in their everyday lives.

“The best testament is when a former player comes back from college and says, ‘Thank you. I feel so much more prepared (for college) than my peers,’” said Burton, who said he got similar responses from wide receivers Tyree Harris, who is at Wake Forest, and Marcus Bennett, who is starting at the United States Air Force Academy. “If the players just follow the plan their chances of success skyrocket.

“Now the kids have resources rather than excuses.”

While Burton said they have not crunched the numbers to see what kind of overall grade point average improvement the Marietta program has had since he first implemented the plan, but he got a quick idea of what it may become without it last year.

The seminar kept getting postponed for one reason or another until they had to just distribute the binders without the preparatory seminar. He said there were more players struggling than in years past.

Burton said the best part of the program is how the older players have taken incoming freshmen and helped them set up their notebooks and helped to answer any questions the young guys may have. He said the teachers really appreciate the way the players have bought in and it makes things much easier on every level.

While the program has been an overall success, there are still the occasional player that just doesn’t seem to grasp the concept until there are consequences.

A tiered enforcement plan – which continues to get more strenuous – is in place if it becomes necessary with the ultimate punishment of having playing time taken away.

“If you don’t take time to take (the system) seriously, then it’s like you’re saying you don’t trust us,” said Burton, who added only one player has made it through all the tiers so far.

“Our blueprint may not work someplace else, but it works here. And if the players aren’t prepared to be better students, brothers, fathers, sons and citizens, then we’ve failed.

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