After three decades of coaching football, Dave McFarland had some burning questions running through his mind.
Why are some kids destined to go to college?
What drives certain players to succeed?
How do winners become winners?
McFarland believes he knows the answers, and now he’s going to try and prove it.
“It seems we start working with our young athletes when it is almost too late,” he said. “They are juniors in high school and decide they want to go to college and play football. More often than not, they are not physically, academically, socially and mentally ready.”
McFarland said he’s had to watch countless football players find the motivation too late, then watch those same athletes be turned away from their dream.
“They are disappointed,” he said. “The common thing I’ve heard from too many athletes during my coaching career is, ‘If I’d only known what I know now, I’d have done things differently.’
“But what if we were proactive and got the kids to think about all the possibilities?”
That’s what McFarland plans to do over the next eight or so years.
The Lorain football coach is putting together a study that will inundate young players with the information they’ll need to be successful in high school — both on the field and in the classroom.
McFarland wants to compile a focus group of about two dozen football players between the fifth and eighth grades, and follow them all the way through their high school careers.
“All athletes will participate in a year-round academic tutoring program,” he said. “We’ll have ACT prep programs, year-round speed and strength training, we’ll travel to Division I, II and III colleges to visit campuses and watch practices in the spring, and attend college games in the fall on those same levels.”
McFarland already has a small group of kids he’s working with, but has more openings available — seven in fifth grade, four in sixth, eight in seventh and four in eighth — for the study. The coach can be reached at 822-7413 if any parents are interested in having their child participate.
“I’m asking parents and kids for a commitment if they want to do it,” he said. “We’ll have a short little orientation for those interested in taking part. I just want to meet with the parents and athletes … and it’s something they can opt out of at any time they want.”
McFarland’s vision is to set up a network of coaches, tutors and mentors that parents and players can tap into for information, encouragement and motivation.
The coach wants to have college football players speak to the group when they return home. He would like the young players to use social media to discover new avenues to knowledge. He wants the parents to talk to other parents — in the group and those in a position to lend a hand in an area of need.
“We need to change the culture,” McFarland said. “We need to create a support system. Everything we do is going to be academics first and football second.”
So far, the students already in the core group are mostly from Lorain County, although McFarland isn’t opposed to taking players from anywhere in Northeast Ohio. He believes having kids from different school systems and geographical areas can only enhance the study.
He also has a calendar of events for each grade level, and hopes he’ll be able to prove that success isn’t just something some players are destined to achieve, but can be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“What if an eighth-grader knew that if he had great grades and ACT scores he could play football at Baldwin Wallace or John Carroll for free?” McFarland said. “How many kids have missed opportunities to play Division III football because of poor academic habits and grades in ninth and 10th grade?
“We want to take these grade-school kids to college games and give them something to dream about.”
McFarland admits his end game is not yet clearly defined.
“We know we’ll be keeping all the facts, all the stats, but we don’t know what we’re going to do with it yet,” he said. “Maybe we’ll publish the results in some coaches’ magazines. Maybe it’ll be just be information for me … I don’t know.
“I’m just interested in being a better school teacher, a better football coach and a better mentor to these young athletes.”