PHS Football Team Learns Life Lessons On & Off the Field
Photographer / Amy Payne & PCSC
Brian Woodard credits his high school coach Jim Kaiser for introducing him to coaching. Woodard was studying engineering at the University of Evansville when Coach Kaiser invited him to help run some youth and pre-season camps. The experience caused Woodard to reevaluate his entire career.
“I changed my major to Education soon after that. It’s funny how life takes you in a certain direction,” says Woodard, who started coaching football and teaching biology at Plainfield High School in 1997.
Woodard’s main goal since he started coaching 22 years ago has been to make Plainfield football feel like family.
“That’s been one of my north stars in coaching, especially now when a lot of kids come from broken homes and are experiencing all kinds of struggles outside of school,” Woodard says. “I feel compelled to give them a place where they’re surrounded by people who care.”
Woodard has also been a part of the Red Pride Youth Football Camp for the past 25 years. It’s a camp designed for those in grades 3-8.
“I see these elementary kids at camp and the next thing you know, they’re at my freshman callout meeting,” Woodard says. “Then in the blink of an eye, it’s four years later and they’re graduating. When those kids come back and say, ‘Thanks, Coach,’ that means a lot.”
Woodard has seen a number of his players go on to do great things. For instance, James Hurst is playing in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. Zane Fakes is a Strength & Conditioning Coach with the Indianapolis Colts. Brock Caraboa (Marian), Tom Restivo (UMass), and Mike Brown (high school head coach in Ohio) are all coaching and doing great things at their respective schools.
“I could talk for hours about all my former players’ successes,” he says. “Honestly, though, my ultimate goal is for them all to become good husbands, good fathers, good employees and good citizens. At some point, you’re going to play your last game of football, and you hope that you’re lucky enough to have a wife and family. Football is just a vehicle for those things that are better in life.”
The game of football involves a great deal of mental and physical stamina —perhaps the greatest of which is a player who sacrifices his own personal goals to do what’s best for the team.
“You might have someone who wants to be a wide receiver, but we need him to play defensive back,” Woodard says. “Can he put his personal feelings aside for the team?”
Then there’s the mental toughness one must possess to show up every day, regardless of your role.
“We rely heavily on what we call our scout team players — those guys who are replicating our opponents every week,” says Woodard, nothing that these are often the younger, less seasoned players.
“To have the courage to go out on that field at 5’5” and 150 pounds, knowing that you’re going to spend 120 minutes getting pushed around and tackled — I have a great amount of respect for those kids,” says Woodard, noting that those are the skills that translate to real life.
“We talk a lot about how football practice is hard but life is harder,” Woodard says. “When our players think our coaches are being tough on them, I say, ‘Wait until you get your worst boss.’”
Football is one of those rare sports where players are asked to work their tail ends off even though they may not taste individual glory. Some may never score, touch the ball, or perhaps even step foot on the field. They may never see their name in the paper or hear it announced over an intercom and yet these kids want to be a part of this rigorous sport.
“You’re asking those guys to sacrifice their own ambitions in order for someone else to be successful because it all revolves around the word ‘team,’” Woodard says. “The idea is that we did it together, and ‘we’ is greater than ‘me.’ I honestly don’t know if there is a better life skill that can be taught. In fact, I think we need more football players in the world to spread this message.”
Despite all the sacrifice, kids relish the lifelong bonds. Tavian Gadia, now a college freshman, played running back for PHS and says that he treasures the relationships he built with his teammates and coaches.
“The trials and tribulations of a football season build some of the strongest bonds and a sense of brotherhood I’ve ever seen,” Gadia says. “I got to know my best friends and many more fantastic people through football, many of which I never would’ve met had it not been for this sport.”
Senior Jaxsen Spears has made lifelong memories at PHS thanks to football.
“Football is the greatest team sport,” Spears says. “It’s taught me many life lessons that I’ll carry with me through my future ventures.”
Woodard’s best football memories also revolve around relationships —especially those with his children Blake (15) and Allison (11).
“When they were little, in the summer they would come hang out with me at practice,” Woodard says. “My kids have learned so many lessons just from watching me and the other coaches, not to mention the players. I love that they’ve been able to grow up around a game I think is the best.”
Woodard is not alone in his assessment. All the parents at PHS would agree that nothing tops football. PHS’s Quarterback Club, which is made up of football parents, is run like a booster club. The primary purpose of the group is to address the needs of the players and coaching staff. They not only fundraise but also help organize details for various events such as the summer camps. For instance, in June the team attended an IU camp in Bloomington. The Quarterback Club gathered Gatorades, energy bars and a 40-pound box of bananas. They also paid for 90 lunches.
“You can’t underestimate the importance of our parents,” Woodard says. “You simply can’t run a program of our size without the support of a parent group like this.”
They also appreciate the fans and the student body.
“Nothing feels better when we come out of the locker room at 6:58 on a Friday night and see our home side with people standing by the fence because the stands are full,” Woodard says. “Playing in that kind of atmosphere is special.”
It’s an image that’s been etched in Woodard’s mind ever since he was young.
“As a player, there’s nothing like Friday night lights,” he says. “To get a chance to play under those lights in front of your friends, family and community — it’s hard to top that atmosphere.”