New coach foresees a new era for Owls' players, community Upbeat Tobias pumps up depressed team, and school sees difference

September 04, 1998|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,SUN STAFF

An administrator at a county high school received a telephone call the other day from a woman asking if season tickets for that school's football games were still available.

Getting over his surprise quickly, the person said yes, and the woman then wanted to know if they were reserved seats. She and her family had recently moved from Oklahoma, and there the local high school team drew standing-room-only crowds.

Assured there would be plenty of room, she thanked the official and hung up.

Three county teams open their seasons at home tonight. All will have good seats available.

Westminster has the only coaching change from last year, as Scott Tobias takes over for Frank Mantinaos, who, for personal reasons, returned to his western Pennsylvania home in July.

The Owls are home against North County tonight.

Community involvement -- putting fans in the stands, for instance -- is one of the goals for Tobias as he tries to inject a new spirit into a program which seemingly has not had much of late.

Tobias, beginning his seventh year as a teacher of technology education, is in his sixth season with the football prgram. With JV and varsity coaching experience, he has worked with just about every member of this year's team.

On the other hand, he is the school's fourth coach in six years.

Tobias' enthusiasm for what he does is contagious, and as a head coach, he has guided winners in softball and baseball. He has people skills and relates well to his players. Some of them will say he is close enough to their ages to understand them, and they can joke with him.

There is, however, a line of respect, but unlike players who might push the line, these players don't even think about it.

"The whole attitude is so new, so positive -- something we've never had," said Billy Arnold, one of seven seniors who have played in the program all four years and who stayed after a recent practice to talk about the changes. "It will be beneficial, because we want to play for him."

Tobias spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator, and Manny Rivera, who comes on as if his energy button were stuck on "go," the perfect mental approach for a middle linebacker, said: "He's kept the same defenses the last three years, basically. He's changed a few things, but his philosophy is the same.

"It's just a lot of fun. We want to have a good senior year. Before, we weren't as interested. Then, we'd see each other in the halls and groan about going to practice. Now, we're excited."

Nick Farver was an All-County baseball player for Tobias last spring, and he could see this new wave coming when the football coaching change was announced.

"The important thing is he knows how to relate to kids," Farver said. "He's one of us."

Considering the program's past, Tobias' early goals seemed beyond reach -- participation, have the players enjoy themselves, and get the community involved. So, the numbers in the total program are up, and the players are having fun.

Community involvement, however, is in the future.

Winning will help that, although nothing guarantees that will come right away. Most of the 1990s have been losing years, and for more than a decade losses have exceeded wins.

That's why the seniors are looking at this as the start of a new era. Winning beats losing, but regardless their enthusiasm has spread in the school. Parents, their friends, and others, will be next.

Tobias said, "I had a teacher stop me the other day and ask what I was doing. He hadn't seen football players this interested, and he told me, 'Whatever it is, you must be doing something right.'"

Then the coach added, "This team is starting to take on a `D character all its own. The players are beginning to exhibit pride in themselves."

Tobias grew up in the small north-central Pennsylvania town of Spring Mills, and high school football on Friday night was a big deal.

He saw it at his old school, where his brother, Martin, is the football coach. Now, he wants to bring that enthusiasm to Westminster. For the players, it has started already.

Said Rivera, "I can't explain it -- he just makes you want to play for him -- and I wouldn't have said that before."

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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