High school football: Bingham leadership program asks players to police themselves
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SOUTH JORDAN — Ruben Gomez didn’t see himself as a starter for the Bingham Miners until his teammates let him know they saw him as their leader.
The senior defensive lineman was content to be just another face in the crowd until his fellow linemen elected him to represent them on the team’s leadership council.
“I was very surprised because at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t the starter,” Gomez said. “I was just there. I was in the rotation, but I wasn’t a starter.”
Knowing his teammates respected him enough to elect him as their leader changed how he felt about his role on the team.
“I was thinking I was going to help the team, but just in the rotation,” he said. “It definitely made me try harder to step up and be that starter.”
Gomez is part of a specially designated squad of position group captains referred to as P.I.E. leaders. It’s a program Bingham head coach Dave Peck developed because he knows the best teams work hard when no one is watching.
“You’re never going to be a great team if you’re doing something just because your coaches are telling you to do it,” he said.
Two years ago, the Miners had talent but mediocre leadership. So the three-time state champion coach decided that in addition to teaching his players how to be better football players, he needed to teach them to be better leaders. First, he sat down and came up with what he thought the main ingredients were for a successful leader. First, a player had to develop passion. And, he said, once a person found what he was passionate about, he needed to pursue it with integrity.
“If you lie, cheat and steal to get what you want, then it means nothing,” he said. “And then, once you have found your passion and you’re pursuing it with integrity, don’t ever let anybody outwork you. That’s where the effort comes in.”
When Peck was finished, he came up with the acronym P.I.E. — which stands for passion, integrity and effort.
He explained the program to his players and asked each position group to elect a P.I.E. leader to represent them. Those young men, along with the team’s captains (a combination of boys selected by coaches and elected by players) would make up the Miners’ leadership council. The council is responsible for discipline when players violate team rules.
But maybe more importantly, they discuss ways to help, mentor and teach the other players in the program.
“I think all of us P.I.E. leaders, we honor (the role),” said senior Kade Jensen, who was elected to represent the team’s quarterbacks. “We respect that we have the privilege to be a vocal leader for our teammates.”
The job consists of anything and everything that the players need — homework help, a nudge to work harder in conditioning drills or a reminder that bad decisions off the field can have massive consequences for the entire team.
The players haven’t had to deal with a lot of disciplinary issues this season, but when they do, they said players better understand the situations, most of the time, than coaches. And they also feel that because they’re all working for the same goals, they have special standing to ask their friends not to let them down.
“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.”