DuVall: a coach for life

High schools: With a mix of intensity and compassion, longtime football coach Doug DuVall forges titles and lasting bonds with his players at Wilde Lake.

October 15, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Doug DuVall turned his back to the action.

The Wilde Lake coach, who typically roams 5 yards onto the field to follow every play, had noticed Jason Dawns grimacing in pain on the sideline. DuVall abandoned his headset and straddled the bench. He rested his forehead on his fullback's brow and whispered: "Tough times go away. Tough people don't."

It's a glimpse of DuVall that has defined his program.

He's a motivator more than a strategist. A counselor more than a technician. A confidante more than a coach.

DuVall, 51, takes pride in his down-to-earth appeal, driving an oversized 1981 Dodge Ram pickup. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound physical education teacher has an authoritative presence, an old-school mentality and a methodical manner. The former offensive lineman is intimidating during locker-room tirades, yet tempers his style with boyish antics and nurturing ways.

So while many fans recognize DuVall for his area-best 215 victories, those who have passed through the program remember his triumphs off the field.

DuVall has guided players through poor grades, troublesome relationships and college decision-making.

When their finances are tight, DuVall finds players after-school jobs that won't interfere with practice. When family members die, the players rely on his compassion. When they get new girlfriends, they introduce them to their coach.

And when players aren't calling him at home nightly, their single mothers are phoning DuVall and asking him to intervene.

"I don't have a father, so I think of Coach DuVall as my father," junior receiver Comer Norwood said. "Whenever I have a problem, I go to him just like that. I talk to him as if he was my father."

DuVall's devotion to his players can have unexpected consequences: One night, his wife, Jan, arrived home and saw an unfamiliar car in the driveway.

"It's one of my player's," DuVall told her. "He'll get it back when his grades get better."

The bonds endure long after graduation. The DuValls have attended 27 weddings of former players.

"He makes you feel like you are part of a family," said Eric Brooks, a running back on DuVall's first varsity team in 1974 who attended the University of Kentucky on a football scholarship. Now a manager of a Circuit City, he named his 12-year-old son DuVall Brooks, after his coach. "It's not what he teaches you about football. It's what he teaches you about life."

Sometimes his team and his personal life conflict, but DuVall and his family find ways around it. His daughter, Beth, was due to give birth to his first grandchild last year on Aug. 15, which was also the first day of practice. She decided to have labor induced on Aug. 12 so the birth wouldn't overlap.

"We live football, but his true love is the kids," said Jan, who videotapes every game. "I always say: `I have one daughter and I get 40-some new boys each year.' "

A calling to coach

The Wildecats don't win under DuVall; they win for him.

Wilde Lake has hoisted five state championship trophies, and it's not because of an intricate offensive system. The Wildecats have run the wishbone for the past 13 years, using virtually the same plays with few surprises.

Wilde Lake has captured 16 Howard County titles, and it's not because of its talent pool. Over the years, the Wildecats have won despite being smaller and slower, at times, than opponents.

The secret lies in the charisma of their coach, the son of a grounds supervisor at the Calvert Distillery in Relay. He has spent most of his life on the football field, playing at Howard High and West Chester State in Pennsylvania. But his calling became coaching, where his off-beat approach seizes his players' attention.

When his linemen weren't running laps fast enough in Tuesday's practice, DuVall borrowed an assistant coach's red Harley-Davidson motorcycle and rode beside his players, saying, "Pick it up, boys, or I'll run you down."

If his players need inspiration, DuVall tells them "life is unpredictable," recounting a eulogy he heard at a funeral for a player's mother. If they need motivation, he describes images from one of his favorite John Wayne movies, 1949's "Sands of Iwo Jima," shouting, "When you go to war together, you fight together and bleed together."

It's not his choice of words -- the speeches are filled with cliches -- but the meaning he gives them. Players look into his piercing eyes. They see the sweat forming and the fist clenched so hard that his knuckles become white.

"It's not what he says, but how he says it," said Dawns, the fullback who was injured a week ago. "His eyes are always looking at you. When you look at him, you feel his emotion."

"You just see the fire coming from him," receiver Nyema Wilson said. "I know I've started crying because he gets me so pumped up."

Thrown into the Lake

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