Dirk Thomas is the football coach at the Garrett Academy of Technology. He is quick to point out that he has a much more important job than that. He's a teacher of life's lessons at a school where a majority of the students live in poverty.
"None of my players will play in the NFL," Thomas said. "But probably all of them will be fathers. We want to teach them the things they will need in life so that one day their kids will look up and respect them. We want them to be good role models."
There are 32 players on the varsity team, and they hear Thomas' words on a daily basis. He diagrams X's and O's of course, but discusses topics such as character and accountability. That combination, along with some athletic ability, has helped the Falcons post a 5-0 record heading into today's 7:30 p.m. Region 6-AA clash at Hanahan.
The toughest coaching decision of his career could have cost the Falcons a loss in Week 3 of the season against St. John's. Thomas suspended quarterback Devontae Thames for the game because he violated team policy. The Falcons still won the game, 20-16.
"That's what I want to be remembered for when my coaching career is over," he said. "That's what I'm most proud of. I would have rather lost than won with someone who shouldn't have been playing. I didn't have to compromise my beliefs or values.
"Character, that's been a big difference this year," Thomas said. "They realize that if they mess up, they won't be the only one to suffer. They realize their actions will affect the entire team."
The players have bought into their coach's approach to football.
"It's a privilege to wear the jersey and to play for Coach Thomas," senior wide receiver Kentrell Smiley said. "We have the right attitude. Up until this year, we didn't have the right attitude. We didn't have a winning attitude."
Senior running back Marcus Campbell has been a member of the team for three years. He's seen a dramatic change this season, compared to the last two when the Falcons were a combined 4-17.
"I didn't believe we could go anywhere," Campbell said. "But now, I believe we can go everywhere. Now, I believe. There's a lot more pride, a lot more cheering by the students. Now, a lot more people come out to the stadium and sit in the stands."
The Falcons have allowed only 36 points in the five victories, and the team must continue to perform well to make the playoffs.
"I told the kids there are two halves of the season," Thomas said. "We won the first half with a 5-0 record. But what we do in the second half determines whether we make the playoffs or contend for the region championship."
Andre Gadsden is one of 17 starters back from last year's team. He's also one of the captains, along with Campbell and Smiley. He's a leader by words and example.
"We make sure the younger players stay out of trouble and make the grades in the classroom," Gadsden said. "We want to make sure they go hard every play."
That's something Thomas wants every day, on the field, in the classroom and in life.