An Unforgettable Season
December 5, 2018
“A New Era” has been the motto for the Fairfield Ludlowe Football team this year, and thanks to new head coach Mitch Ross, “A New Era” is exactly what it’s been.
Over the past few years, Ludlowe football has lost much confidence, facing a winless season in 2016 of 0-10. When it was decided that a new head coach was needed, Ross was one of many who applied for the position.
Ross left his position as the offensive coordinator for Darien football, who just won their third consecutive state title, and that exit made a statement. “To me winning is great, but I really wanted a place where I could make a difference, where I could come in and turn around the program,” says Ross.
When Ross came to Ludlowe there were 35-40 kids on the football team, and now there are over 100, many who have never even played the sport in high school.
So many kids were interested in the fact that Ross doesn’t allow hitting in practice, “A big concern in football are injuries or concussions with the higher and higher level you get; you have to eliminate hitting if you’re going to keep your players safe”, says Ross.
Ross decided that little contact (1 v. 1 drills with little space between each player) keeps the players safe and happy and easier to teach. This method also keeps parents in favor of the high contact sports, and Ross believes that high school football can be more appealing to players and parents with these favorable conditions.
Ross also believes, unlike most coaches, that yelling at his players is rather unfair as he states “How would you feel if someone came into your office and yelled at you”. “It’s the same thing for your players, nobody wants to get yelled at when they make a mistake.”
Ross put it upon himself to go around the school recruiting anyone who was willing to play, knowing it would be a challenge after two disappointing seasons. He was hopeful, however, that his pitch for joining the team would be successful, due partly to his philosophy of no hitting, or even no yelling or extra running.
Luckily he had some of his best athletes still willing to play, without question, like starting running back Kevin Quinn who says, “I just love the game of football and I didn’t want to quit on my friends like that.”
Brian Howell was on the team until the end of his sophomore year, when he decided that a 0-10 season was a waste of time. Ross came to him on several occasions to remind him of his talent and encouraged Howell to join the team with the promise of a better program.
Howell knew Ross would make a positive difference and wanted to see what would happen. “I had a personal motivation for myself because I knew I could probably do this in college and I want to do it in college.”
As the team meets year-round for lifting and a passing league, Ross was able to impress the boys with a full plan as Quinn states, “He had a workout schedule and pretty much the entire season planned out before it even started, which brought me into really stay dedicated.”
Ross made sure that the team took advantage of every chance they could to be better. Quinn comments, “We do a lot of passing leagues, more than other teams. We don’t just do one.”
Ross knew that half of the game was team chemistry and all this work has brought the boys closer than ever. Quinn says, “We have built a huge friendship. We’re all really good friends and hang out outside of football.”
With more kids still needed, Ross found himself attracting more interested players in for each day of practice once kids started hearing about his new coaching style. Many of the players on the roster had never played football before, but are just dynamic athletes who wanted to be part of this new team.
“He treats his players with respect and as equals to him.” “We are a lot more positive and optimistic,” says Quinn, “and now since the optimism is rubbing off on everyone else, we are all just having a great time.”
Ross has never seen a happier group of guys on the field as there was equal respect between the coaches and players all season long and much gratitude from the players for what they have. “They absolutely love practice and miss it. After the season ended,” Ross says. “Players were bemoaning the fact that they didn’t have practice.”
Ross was able to make this season worthy for all players, including those who didn’t seek much playing time. “In order to be successful in games you need a really good scout team to be able to show you a good look,” says Howell, “so a lot of kids get a kick out of giving the starters a hard time to make us better.”
The Falcons started off the season with 29-21 win over Westhill which gave the team a confident start to the season. Once they ran into Trumbull for game two, things changed.
Losing to Trumbull 47-6, the boys knew they had to make an attitude adjustment.
“We lost to Trumbull because we weren’t really focused that week at practice with the high of winning our first game, which woke us up for the games that followed.”
Whatever change that was made worked, as Ross changes his game plan and playbook after every game, giving Ludlowe their first memorable home win in years against Norwalk.
The team carried on a winning season the rest of the way, losing only to two of the best teams in the state –Greenwich and New Canaan, two teams who are playing against each other in the Class L state finals this weekend.
Ludlowe finished off the season with a 34-33 win against cross-town rival, Warde; their first Thanksgiving win in years.
Ross’s only wish is that his seniors and the rest of the team joined the team earlier as he states, “It would have been nice if I got to them and they had at least three years of football by the time senior year came. We would have been much more advanced.”
With great talent leaving for college, and some rookie underclassmen in the ranks, the Falcons will need to rebuild again next year, but the future looks bright during Ross’s Reign.