HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Indians putting their chemistry to the test vs. Derry
Mark Zilinskas is employed by the Indiana Area School District as a math teacher.
This week, he’s been teaching chemistry.
Zilinskas’ second job is to be Indiana’s varsity football coach, and his team is in somewhat of a bind after consecutive losses to Franklin Regional and Mars by a combined score of 69-15. In both of those losses, the Indians’ biggest problem came when adversity hit.
They got knocked down and didn’t get up, and that’s something Zilinskas attributes to team chemistry.
“We’ve been on a roller coaster emotionally,” he said. “It hasn’t been a matter of performance or conditioning or athletic ability. It’s about sustaining our mental edge. … We have high expectations, and when you have high expectations and you fall short, it takes you by surprise. So the big thing we’re trying to focus on is playing the game between our ears. When something goes wrong, we can’t panic. We have to move on to the next play.”
So of all places to get a teaching tool, the veteran coach talked to his team about something he heard on TV from … Ray Lewis.
“I know, I know,” Zilinskas said sheepishly.
“He wasn’t getting all caught up in the analytical stuff, you know the stuff about this guy doing this good or the X’s and O’s,” Zilinskas said of the former star linebacker-turned ESPN NFL analyst. “He was focusing on whether you can trust a guy, or if a guy is a team player, or if a guy is a hard worker. He didn’t get sucked into that other analytical stuff; he just wanted to focus on those traits that are the glue that puts everything together. And that’s what we need. We need that glue to come together when we go out and play a football game.”
The Indians get back on the field Friday night when they play host to a struggling Derry team that hasn’t come close to a victory in three games: The Trojans have been outscored 174-14 this season.
So in one sense, having a team like Derry come along is a perfect scenario for the Indians to get back to their winning ways. But the truth is that the Trojans won’t be a pushover if Indiana doesn’t correct the mistakes it made the past two weeks, when mental errors became too much to overcome.
“They’re 0-3 coming into this game,” Zilinskas said of the Trojans. “But with a win here, they have some life. They’re fighting for their life right now. The worst thing we could do is give them some momentum. They’re going to fight and scrap. … We know what they’re like. So we’ve just got to take it to them from the first play and we can’t let them in it.”
So Zilinskas wants his players to know he believes in them. He earnestly believes they can beat anybody on any night.
“We need to get back to realizing what we’re capable of doing,” he said. “I think the guys are hungry. They’re ready to get out here on the home field Friday night, and I’m looking forward to it.”
One player Zilinskas believes in wholeheartedly is senior quarterback Sean Thompson, who struggled the last two weeks and was replaced in each game by junior Jacob Zilinskas, the coach’s son. But the coach said there is no quarterback controversy on North Fifth Street.
“As far as I’m concerned, Sean is our starter,” he said. “We could make a change, but I’m not anticipating that happening. But there are a lot of positions that could happen at. I hope Sean comes in there and does what he’s capable of doing and that he plays all night. Sean is our starter.”
All week, Zilinskas has been preaching to his team the idea that the players must band together and rebound when bad things happen, Across America, he is hardly the only coach doing that, and that’s another lesson for the Indians.
“Every team in America deals with that,” Zilinskas said. “There are two things that could potentially break teams up, and it’s success and adversity. … We’re trying to emphasize this week that it’s about the team. It’s all about the team.”
Zilinskas also knows his chemistry experiment must still be tested, and that will come Friday night. A passing grade means a victory.
“I think the kids are starting to come together,” he said. “And I really think that nothing will finish that off like a win.”