High school football: Bingham leadership program asks players to police themselves
“We’ve got something special here at Bingham,” said Nick Heninger, senior P.I.E. captain of the linebackers. “We’ve built this thing, now don’t ruin it for the other guys. We’re a chain, and we’re only as strong as our weakest link. We want to help everyone get stronger so there are not weaknesses.” He jokes that some players tire of his nagging by referring to him as “Mama.”
“Oh, I get on them,” Heninger said. “They say, ‘Dude, you’re like my mom, just stop.’ ”
While some feel naturally inclined to lead, other P.I.E. leaders have had to find ways to feel comfortable leading.
“I thought it was weird that my team would pick me because I’m not the loudest kid,” said Nate Naylor, a senior fullback chosen to represent his position. “I just try to be a good example. I know other guys, like Kade Cloward, help guys with their classes when they didn’t have good grades. You just help them, and if there are issues, we meet together as a council and talk about it.” Junior Matt Larsen, who represents wide receivers, said he sees his role as a captain very simply.
“I try to be the best I can,” he said.
The system works because everyone wants to succeed.
“All of these players, they’ve been dreaming about this their whole lives,” he said. “They want it to work, so they’re going to listen to each other.”
And while the players love and respect their coaches, they said advice, help and even discipline feels different when it comes from each other.
“There is something about it coming from a player, something that really hits home when it comes from someone right there with you in the classroom and on the field,” said senior tight end and captain Dalton Schultz.
No one was more surprised to be elected a P.I.E. leader than Noa Taeatafa, a senior offensive lineman. His parents sent him from Hawaii to Utah, where he lives with his maternal uncle because his parents felt the football and the education were superior at Bingham.
“At first I was angry at my parents,” he said smiling. “I didn’t want to come here. I was a 3.8 student, playing football and doing really well. I said, ‘Why are you going to move me if I’m doing so well?’ ”
Three years later and on the eve of playing for his first-ever state championship, Taeatafa said he’s now very grateful to his parents, his aunt and uncle and the Bingham football program for a life-changing experience.
“I’m so grateful my parents made the sacrifice,” he said. “I’ve gained so many things — coach Peck’s code of ethics. So many things I’ve learned about football and life.”
He said while he used to be a player simply concerned with competition, now he understands how to compete with honor.
“We talk about killing them with class,” he said. “Play your hardest, but do it with class.”
As for being elected a P.I.E. leader, he said, he feels the system has taken the team — and the players involved — to new heights.
“You relate to the other players more,” he said. “You can talk to your friends easier.”
Peck said the proof isn’t in the fact that the Miners are playing for a state title. It’s in the team’s cumulative grade point average. Of 96 players invited to participate in the playoffs with the varsity team, only two fell below the required 2.0 (although Peck requires 2.5 to play).
“Even counting those two kids, this team’s overall GPA was 3.44,” Peck said. “We have 19 boys with 4.0s. I think that has a lot do with leadership. We don’t just talk about being great athletes. To me, there are more life lessons that are learned being part of a football program. I guarantee you during summer workouts, I wouldn’t even need to show up, and these boys would be working out as if I was there. And I truly believe that. When they take ownership of the team, and they’re doing (the work) because they know if they do, then they can be in the position that we’re in now, that’s when you’ve won them over. That’s when it’s turned into a great thing.”