When I was first informed that I’d be embedded with the Vandebilt Catholic football team for its playoff football game with Neville, I had mixed emotions.
Sure, I knew that it was a cool opportunity to make a road trip for a high-stakes playoff football game – something that I love to do under almost any circumstances.
But this was different – for obvious reasons.
First, it was Thanksgiving. What warm-blooded American enjoys missing out on precious time with friends and family by working on Thanksgiving? I know I don’t. I’d imagine that you’re in the same boat as me.
Secondly, by making the trip, it meant that I’d miss both the Dallas Cowboys and LSU’s football games – a real bummer for a nerdy fan like myself. Heck, I cannot remember the last time that that’s happened. If I did the research, I may find that it’s never happened in my lifetime watching football.
But now that it’s all over and we’ve returned from Monroe, I have this one lasting impression from my time with the Terriers – it is not a coincidence that Vandebilt was the last team standing in the Tri-parish area.
They are a first-class program filled with first-class people.
I am thrilled and honored to have been a part of the Terriers’ community for my two-day Thanksgiving stay.
Let’s start with the coaching staff – a group led by Brad Villavaso, who is otherwise known as “Coach V.”
To people who do not know Coach V, he may come off as a pretty scary kind of guy.
A former player, he still has much of his football build, possessing a strong, muscular frame.
Away from that, he also possesses a loud, raspy voice that makes it seem like he’s shouting at you – even if he’s just talking in his normal tone.
He’s just a loud dude – there’s no other way to say it.
Before this week, I knew Villavaso was a solid coach – his resume speaks for itself. He coached in the Southeastern Conference – that’s enough for me to be sold.
But during this trip, I was introduced to the other side of the coach and I saw why his Vandebilt squad is successful now and will be in the future.
The head honcho of Vandebilt’s football program is a great man and a true class act.
Throughout the entire trip, Coach V made sure that I was comfortable and got everything that I needed to get my story done.
Sure, the same can be said of almost every coach I encounter. I’m blessed with a group that understands the importance of local media to prep sports.
But this assignment was different – it involved me basically invading the privacy of a football team before its most important game of the season.
Not very many coaches would trust a reporter enough to unlock all of the program’s doors in the playoffs.
But Vandebilt did just that for me and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.
But Villavaso isn’t alone – he’s surrounded by a slew of class people in the program’s inner circle.
His assistant coaches are all an extension of the head coach and are knowledgeable coaches, who have both football smarts and legitimate love for the team’s players.
They, too, were a joy to be around.
I don’t like to speak for anyone, but I think I can speak for Villavaso and say that a large part of his success is because of the hard work and dedication of the coaches around him.
Away from the football building, the Terriers also have a loyal fan base. The ones that traveled to Monroe with us made sure that I felt at home – constantly reminding me that I was welcome to any of the snacks and goodies they had prepared for the team.
“You gave up Thanksgiving to be with us – the least we can do is give you a sandwich,” one parent said with a laugh when offering me a sandwich from Honey Baked Ham.
One even thanked me for being willing to sacrifice my holiday to “make those boys feel good about themselves.”
I could talk about the kind words bestowed onto me all day, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly shift away from myself and onto the real heroes of this week – the Terrier players.
I did not have very high expectations for behavior when I was told of this assignment. Thinking back to my own life as a 16-year-old, I could safely state that if I would be on a bus for 10 hours total in two days, shenanigans would have ensued.
Likewise, if I were in a hotel alone without my parents, more chaos would have been forthcoming.
But Vandebilt’s players were a pleasant surprise.
On both the trip to Monroe and back, they showed true character, keeping volume levels down.
In the hotel and throughout the stay, the players handled themselves like men and treated everyone around them with respect – saying please and thank you to hotel workers every time needed.
In today’s world where respect and manners are endangered species, it was very pleasant to be around a fine group of young men.
Talent is a must for football success – that’s obvious. But character must also be present for a team to succeed.
Vandebilt’s 2012 squad had lots of that – it shined through and through in my two days with the team.
Working for Thanksgiving is a bummer – there’s no doubt about it.
But Vandebilt’s football program saved my holiday and provided me with a very memorable two days.
I had to make a last-minute revision to my 2012 list of things I’m thankful for – new friends.
After this week, I certainly have quite a bit more of those.