Building a brotherhood
When Mike Aldrich accepted the position as head coach of the Minot State football team in early 2017, he knew he needed to change the culture of football at Minot State University. One of the first steps was changing the way players approached the game, so the buzz word on the field became grit instead of grind.
Donnell Vercher, senior from Fresno City, Calif., said grit means accepting the challenge and not giving up.
“Grind is something you’ve got to get through, but grit is embracing the difficulty,” Vercher explained.
Through that shifting mindset, players became a family protecting each other instead of a team of 80-90 players working as individuals.
Senior defensive back, Justin Gonzales, said coach Aldrich taught players to, “Love people up.”
By creating an expectation that every player on the team has a responsibility to support each other, Aldrich has created a football team of brothers.
Coming into the position, Aldrich knew he couldn’t hide from the difficulties the team had faced on and off the field in the past, so he placed more responsibility on the team for the actions of individuals and pushed humility by teaching them how to right the wrong.
“Show in your actions that you’ve learned from the mistake,” he told players.
Part of changing the image of Minot State football means players have to be a positive presence in the community.
“You have to give respect to get it. You have to give love to get it back,” Aldrich said.
There’s a new emphasis on teaching players to achieve personal satisfaction from giving back by shifting the focus away from the individual toward the needs of the university and the community.
“Become a great man, become a great leader in your community, become a great husband and father, become champions,” Aldrich said.
That definition of champions doesn’t have to be about the number of wins. On game day, Aldrich wants to celebrate players’ successes off the field. Fans will see a sticker in the shape of North Dakota on the backs of players’ helmets this season. The color of the state indicates the player’s academic goals based on the previous semester—gold represents a GPA of 3.5 or higher, silver indicates a GPA between 3.49 and 3.0, and bronze indicates a GPA higher than 2.80.
Aldrich’s emphasis on success in the classroom likely comes from his own background as an educator, and he coaches like a teacher by getting to the root of what went wrong.
“[Coach] is smart and not challenged by a question,” Senior center, Logan Gunderson said.
Being able to understand the purpose behind a drill makes practice more enjoyable even when the tasks are difficult, according to Gunderson. Aldrich encourages the team to move forward by aiming for new strategies and approaches to the game allowing them to do things on the field they’ve never done before.
In the past, Gunderson said there was a feeling as if they couldn’t lose a lead or a game, but Aldrich encourages the team not to fear failure because it’s how to learn and grow. By shifting the focus from grind to grit, players are having fun competing.
The team is ready to “attack the game—attack the moment,” Gunderson said, instead of feeling like the game is over when they’re behind.
Approaching failure as an opportunity to learn offers players and coaches opportunities to build people up.
Ryan Fila, a senior receiver from West Hills, Calif. in his second season, said the philosophy on the field is very much, “If it’s understood, it doesn’t need to be said.”
This attitude filters down from coaches to team captains. Aldrich selected eight seniors from diverse backgrounds to serve as captains this year.
“There’s no other feeling like being a senior and being the leader,” Vercher said.
The captains, according to Vercher, want to teach the younger players how to carry the team in the community by being the role models they didn’t have.
In building the dam and the brotherhood, Aldrich has created a trust between players and coaches that hasn’t been seen in prior seasons. Players and coaches alike acknowledge they’re not where they want to be in terms of turning plays yet, but the attitude of players and the culture of the team on and off the field is already exceeding Aldrich’s early expectations.