Whale Branch High School Varsity Football Team a Class Act

By Wendy Pollitzer

Featured in The Island News

September 23, 2010

2010 Whale Branch High School Varsity Football Team. Photo courtesy of Bob Sofaly

The inaugural year for the Whale Branch High School Warriors has proven to be a good one so far. Coached by Rob D’Amato, the Warriors are 3-1, with a loss to Hardeeville last Friday.

I had the privilege of joining the team for practice Monday afternoon. And no, practice didn’t start on the field. It started in the classroom. I listened as the Offense and Defense Coordinators as well as Coach D’Amato reviewed last Friday’s game on video and pointed out the team’s mistakes as well as their strengths.

Coach Rob DAmato

“You know, when we review a game on Monday after a win, you lose the kids in a video review. But when you lose, they really listen when you point out the good and the bad of the game,” explains Coach D’Amato.

And the resounding message on this particular Monday after Friday’s loss was, “tackling.” After Coach D’Amato asked the young men what the worst part of Friday’s defense was, the classroom agreed, “Tackling!” So guess what the team worked on once they arrived on the field? You guessed it…tackling.

Coach D’Amato, a 2003 graduate of Presbyterian College, received his Master’s Degree from the University of South Carolina. While at school, D’Amato coached at Brookland-Cayce High School in Columbia and then moved on as Assistant Coach at Goose Creek High School. He’s now loving his role as Head Coach at Whale Branch.

“So far, I’ve been very impressed with the kids and the community’s enthusiasm.  The atmosphere is tremendous,” exclaims D’Amato. When asked about the team, D’Amato explains, “We’ve got significant progress to make and a long way to go, but we’ll get there. I’ve got a strong football background, and the kids appreciate that.  Coaching is a tremendous vehicle for helping people, so I hope I can help these kids.”

And so far, he is.  Quarterback Steadman James describes Coach, “We understand him and he understands us. He knows each guy’s athletic ability and puts him in the right role.”

Andrew Byam, a Junior Linebacker agrees. “He’s pretty smart and very organized.”

The young men like Coach D’Amato’s style, though they are learning his new schemes. Byam explains, “We’re used to throwing the ball, but we’re learning how to run with it.”

You see, most of these guys played for Battery Creek last year. This is their first year at the new High School. And get this…there are NO SENIORS on the team. Every one of these guys will be coming back next year.

I asked Josh Fields, a Junior Running Back, about the team. “We’re getting better every day. It’s a team sport, so we all get to know how to work together. The best part is that everyone is coming back next year!”

Coach D’Amato is a strong supporter of academics as well as athletics.   He insists on Study Hall twice a week, and if the students average 75 or lower, they must attend Study Hall every day. The coaches also conduct ACT and SAT prep courses. It helps that three coaches on the team are Science, Social Studies and English teachers.

D’Amato is also big on consistency, not only on the field, but in the classroom as well. “We want to be consistent in everything we do…in the dress code, in the way we play, in our academics.”  So D’Amato rewards his players for doing just that.

D’Amato created a “Black Jersey” program that has become the highest honor a player can receive in a season, besides being named permanent Captain. A player has to earn the Black Jersey and can wear it on the practice field. He’s got to play and practice hard, demonstrate exceptional character on and off the field and be positive.

Sophomore Linebacker Trey Nelson

So far this year, only one player has received a Black Jersey, and it was on Monday. Trey Nelson, a sophomore Linebacker donned the Black Jersey during the entire practice.  “He deserves it. Trey is an outstanding young man. He’s a standout kid. His lowest grade is a 92,” says D’Amato. “And I’m confident all of my players will wear a Black Jersey. That’s the plan, anyway.”

Modest Trey responded softly when I asked him if he was excited to receive the Black Jersey. “I like it; I wasn’t expecting it. I’m very grateful for it, and you better believe I’m going to wear it!”

Trey, Steadman, Andrew and Josh are exceptional young men. They’ve all played together in the past and look forward to an exciting and hopeful winning season. It was a real pleasure to sit and chat with them and Coach D’Amato as well.

So what’s in store for the game Friday night against Allendale? You better believe these kids will be tackling!  Coach D’Amato explained to the players as they left to get dressed out for practice, “Nick Saban of Alabama does it the best. His team is always mentally prepared. You’ve got to be mentally prepared Friday night.  Your mentality on defense will determine what happens on that next drive. Bend and Don’t Break!”

Thanks Coach D’Amato for inviting me to practice. Your team is exception and I wish you all the luck this season. Go Warriors!

About Wendy

Wendy Pollitzer is a versatile writer living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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"I love Wendy Pollitzer’s writing. Her instincts are remarkable, her nose for truth infallible. I can’t pick up a journal or magazine that she’s written for without going straight to the table of contents in search of her piece. What I think is so interesting about her work is that she really believes in what she’s doing, in getting it right. She’s very, very good. "— Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides, South of Broad) 1945-2016