Football: St. Joseph suffered through growing pains

Mismatches, trap games are terms used when an established team takes on another squad with similar aspirations but not the acquired pedigree.

St Joseph captured its 14th state championship on Saturday with a record 70-18 victory over Berlin, but before Joe Della Vecchia coached the Cadets to the sixth title on his watch the Hogs faced challenges going from middle of the pack to annual contenders.

“You try to come up with something, find a way to get an edge and make the kids believe,” said Della Vecchia, who was a captain on that first title-winning team in 1980 and assistant coach for three more. “We came up with (the catchphrase) Win Everyday in 1999. We had to sell the kids. When they bought in we began to see success.”

So how do you get players to buy in?

“I think because I believed, and my coaches believed, it became the way,” Della Vecchia said. “Even when we were decided underdogs, even when we were undermanned we believed (success was possible). At the start the score didn’t always reflect the changes.”

What was altered was how players worked in the offseason. Weight lifting, team bonding and accountability became the norm. Winning followed.

“I believe we turned the corner in 2006 after we went 4-6,” Della Vecchia said. “Even then, we had to change things up (on a 7-3 season in 2005). We had too many players going two ways and we were wearing down. Plus, when we graduated a guy we had to fill two positions. We knew that wasn’t going to work.”

To gain traction on the field after a 4-6 campaign, the coaches sat down and came up with a new system in 2007 — the spread offense.

The spread doesn’t refer to the offense as much as what it forces opposing defenses to do. With the quarterback in the shotgun formation seven yards behind the line, the offense looks to stretch the defense horizontally by using three-, four-, and even five-receiver sets.

Utilizing the space between defenders was now being optimized.

“We didn’t have enough backs to run out of the wing-t, but we did have athletes with the speed to go to the spread,” Della Vecchia said. “It took time, but the style did bring more kids out for the team and we got better.”

The Cadets went 6-5 in 2008 before winning six titles in the next nine seasons.

The one-way approach meant that St. Joseph didn’t have to rely strictly on being physical on offense, but could finesse the ball down the field.

What about the defense?

“We changed the way we went about things,” Della Vecchia said. “Instead of having four guys on the defensive line, we began to rotate six players in and out of the game. We began to look for a player’s greatest strength. It made no sense to say one player was a tackle. Maybe, he was a good backup tackle on offense, but was better suited as a linebacker on defense.”

Being average at multiple positions was no longer the way to get on the field.

To become a Hog regular, you had to be good.

“We weren’t looking for eleven players to start, but the best twenty-two to twenty-five players who could really do the job,” Della Vecchia said.

With the change in systems came a change in how Della Vecchia approached coaching. As the head coach, it is difficult not to feel responsible for all aspects of preparation.

“I learned that it is okay to have your head in on the meetings and the game planning, but to let my coaches do the jobs they are best suited for,” he said.

“Two years ago, Jim Chaves took the offense and Gary Clark is now in charge of the defense. They are free to create and I backed off a bit. We all get together to break things down at the half.

“I have respect for all the coaches and I trust them. We have been together in one way or another for the most part since 2012.

"We meet everyday to discuss things.”

There is is again: Win Everyday.

It fits nice on the swag sold to parents, students and alumni.

It also reads well on the banner that is carried onto the field before every game.

And the end result of that belief has added luster to the burgeoning trophy case.