OTTAWA — There were times this season when Ottawa football coach Trent Swords would make his team just run and run and run.
He had a purpose for the sprints.
“After the fact, (Swords) would be like, ‘You know what, there are going to be times you don’t like what you’re doing but you have to do it anyways,’” Ottawa senior Michael Hermosillo said. “I think things like that were key points to us that we learned as a team that we’re going to face adversity, and I think later on with second halves (when we were down), it helped us.”
Handling adversity is just one of the lessons Swords tries to teach his players, not just for football but for later on in life as well.
“(I try to teach my players) the same things I try to teach my own kids — set goals for yourself; work hard; never give up; even when things aren’t going your way, things will turn around through hard work and preparation,” Swords said. “Those are the things I hope they leave football with.
“We all like to win. We all want to be conference champs and state titlists, but that’s not why you play sports. You play sports for the camaraderie and the lessons learned.”
This season, those lessons paid off for the Pirates with a 9-0 regular season, a Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division championship, an 11-1 final record and a Class 6A quarterfinal berth, which matches the furthest advancement in program history.
For those accomplishments, Swords is the 2012 NewsTribune Football Coach of the Year.
“I’m just really proud of what they accomplished,” Swords said. “It’s always nice to see when guys put in the work and then get back from their hard work, and that’s what I enjoyed most about this season. What will really resonate with me with this group is their never-give-up attitude and their willingness to put it all on the line week in and week out.”
The never-give-up attitude Swords helped instill certainly paid off for the Pirates a few times in big games this season.
The Pirates were down 21-7 at halftime against Sterling in a game that decided the NIB 12 West champion, and Ottawa faced a 20-0 deficit in the second round of the playoffs against Rock Island.
Ottawa rallied to win both times — topping Sterling 27-24 and edging Rocky 21-20.
“I think the biggest thing is he always came in pretty calm,” Hermosillo said about how Swords acted when the Pirates were down at halftime. “He was never like, ‘Guys, what are you doing?’ He’s be like, ‘You know what, we’re going to be alright.’ He came in calm and with composure, and I think that helped us understand we were not in trouble and we could come back.”
Swords did more than simply teach life lessons. He also adjusted Ottawa’s schemes to accentuate his players’ strengths.
The Pirates went to three down linemen on defense and used more of the I formation on offense to capitalize on Hermosillo’s running style.
Hermosillo said there also were “some key decisions and adjustments” during games that helped the Pirates.
“He’s a good coach and a good man,” junior lineman Cyrano Rayfield said. “He knows what he’s talking about. It’s a good experience having him as a coach.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.