Faith, Love and Football: Player Testimony
Here is a tremendous testimony written by a former player ... this is a number of years after his experience. You can see how much of an impact his coaches made.
By: Casey Bolsega
As some of you may know, I attended Roncalli High School and played football for the Rebels. This article was also featured in the 2011 Indiana Football Digest, but I wanted to share it with all of you as well. This is about my time at Roncalli and what Rebel Football means to me. I hope you enjoy, it truly is from my heart.
"I would like to thank Paul Condry for giving me the opportunity to talk about a person who has had one of the most positive impacts in my life. I had the pleasure to play under Bruce Scifres for three varsity seasons. It’s difficult to put into words the life lessons I learned through playing Roncalli Rebel Football, with Scifres being the cornerstone of it all.
During my time at Roncalli I was a member of three Class 4A State Championship teams. I never lost a playoff game. The victory my senior year made Roncalli the first school in the state of Indiana to win eight state championships. Although success was obvious on the field, our success was driven by faith.
Bruce Scifres has taught me more about the game of life than any person besides my mother. He leads by example. He would never ask anything of his team that he did not fully believe would benefit them, not only on the football field, but throughout their lives.
I am taking this opportunity to talk about how football shaped my faith and the impact Scifres has had on my life.
FAITH AND FOOTBALL
Faith, family, and football is a phrase that is used quite often, but one that is rarely lived out on the gridiron as well as life. Integrating faith into football is a unique concept to many people.
Roncalli Football strengthened my faith. Praying after every practice, before every play, during plays, and even when I was watching my team from the sideline, became an integral part of football. Something as simple as “Lord help me execute,” became words that were whispered thousands of times on hollowed ground on Friday nights.
Scifres is known as being a strategist when it comes to football, but few people know about his prayer strategy and how it leads to success. Never once did I pray to win a game. Never once did I ask God to help us beat a team. Instead, I asked God to help me execute my assignment. I prayed for a safe contest. I prayed for the strength to overcome any adversity I would face.
Scifres always told us that by using our God giving talents on the football field and laying everything on the line in a way we glorified God. Scifres would never take credit; instead he would give all the credit to God. That might be a hard concept to grasp, but not if you have a firm grasp on your own faith and what your ministry is on this earth.
There are faith-driven moments that give me chills to this day that were part of our “pre-game warm-up.” During our pre-game stretches, Chris “Cubby” Belch, our defensive coordinator, would walk around to every player with a crucifix in his hand, and allow them to touch it, reminding us of the pain endured by Jesus Christ for us. It reminded us that no obstacle, pain, or adversity we would face would be greater than Jesus Christ dying so that we may have everlasting life.
Before we left the locker room and headed out to the battlefield, Scifres would lead the team in “building the fortress.” Every player would come together, put their helmet up in the air, and build the fortress. Scifres would speak and 90+ brothers would echo him. “Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside, Christ over me, Christ under my feet, let all around me be Christ.” Building the fortress before every game was a constant reminder that in order for us to achieve our goals, Christ must encompass our every action on the field.
There are many things that contributed to Roncalli’s success over the past 25 years. We’ve had teams that are very talented. We’ve had teams that are very hard working. But every team at Roncalli is taught how to play faith-driven football. That is where the success comes from. Scifres used to always say, “I’m a firm believer that when God mixes with ordinary people, extraordinary things can happen.” To me, faith and football is an interdependent relationship. Luckily, we had faith on our side, and used our God given gifts to make history.
THE LOVE OF A FOOTBALL COACH
The love of a football coach, some might think it is a bit unusual to talk about the love shared between coaches and players. For me, it has taught me to be the man that I am today. To give you a little better background about myself, I was raised in a single parent household. My mother played the roll of a father as well as being an exemplary mom. In the early years, lacking a positive male role model caused some struggles in my life, but I was introduced to a large group of positive male role models in the form of coaches when I entered Roncalli’s halls.
In a recent interview with Scifres, he talks about what he thinks it means to be a successful father. “The role of a father is by far the most important job I will ever have,” Scifres said. “I think anyone that is a father that is their most important job. Loving, taking care of our kids, teaching them right form wrong, and being a good role model for them. I think we need to strive each day to convince our kids that we love them. We try to carry that over into our football program too.”
Scifres practices what he preaches. Every year, he takes a new group of sophomores; fine tunes them to be impactful on the football field, but shows them the love and compassion to ensure that they know how much he loves them. I can’t recall all of the instances in which a coach told me they loved me, but what is engraved in my head is the love that was shown by my coaches.
It didn’t stop with Scifres. The whole coaching staff was simply mirror images of Scifres. Chris Strykowski, Chris “Cubby” Belch, Ray Shelburn, Bobby “Grif 1” Griffin, Jerre McManama, Eddie Keller, Brian Lauck, Mike Sahm, Trevor Wilson, and Tim Puntarelli all showed the love of a football coach.
I can recall Coach Puntarelli, who also is the Dean of Students at Roncalli, coming up to me before every game, give me a hug, look me in the eyes, and say “I love you.” I’m not sure if he did that with everyone, just a select few, just me, or players that he knew needed that male role model, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that his actions spoke louder than his words. I knew “Pun,” as we called him, did in fact love me.
Scifres was the leader of the pack, but the rest of the coaches knew the role they played, not only in the Xs and Os, but in our young lives was just as crucial.
Being involved with high school football has given me a new outlook on the positive influence this group of men had on my life. I have encountered Scifres and other coaches more in the past year than I have since I played for them. Each time I see them, it’s common practice for us to embrace with a hug. I often wonder what other people think when they see two grown men hugging, but then again I do not care. I am hugging the men who have become fathers for me. They were fathers when I didn’t have one. They were fathers when my head was down. They were fathers there to tell me what is right and what is wrong when sometimes I didn’t know for myself. Most importantly, they taught me how to be a father, something that will stay with me until I have the opportunity to be father myself and continue the legacy of being a great man, taught by Bruce Scifres and all my other coaches at Roncalli High School.
I will end with a moment that I will never forget. This past year I had one of the proudest moments in my professional career. I was with Scifres at the Coach of the Week banquet this past season, he looked me in the eyes, and said “Casey, I love you, and I’m so proud of the man you have become.” My response was a simple “thank you,” but Scifres knew that those two words spoke volumes about my appreciation for all he has done for me.
Thank you to Coach Scifres and all of my other coaches at Roncalli for helping me become a man. Luckily for me, they were able to teach me these valuable lessons through the game I love, football."