Atlantic football team looks to build off upset of Dwyer
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
by Matt Porter
Atlantic High football coach Chris Bean is a passionate, spiritual man. But sometimes, the messages he tries to impart get lost.
Some of his players don't quite give their full attention. Or, they listen, but come game time, their teenage minds seem to be elsewhere.
Not last Thursday.
Atlantic, one of the area's most skilled, yet inconsistent teams, shocked second-ranked Dwyer, the nationally ranked powerhouse that has been to the playoffs every year since 1999. Atlantic, which boasts four graduates starting in the NFL and a host of alums playing at big-time schools, is always loaded with talent. But the Eagles have missed the playoffs two of the past three seasons.
Yet there they were, dumping ice water on Bean after a 28-12 win in Dwyer's house. The win gives the eighth-ranked Eagles (5-2, 3-1 in District 13-7A) a chance to clinch the district lead Friday with a win over No. 4 Royal Palm Beach.
"We were more together," junior quarterback Thomas Owens said Monday. "We wanted this more than anything."
Owens, a former wide receiver who became the starter in late September, was one of the stars along with senior return man and receiver Brisly Estime (two touchdowns), senior running back Tevin Spells (touchdown) and senior defensive linemen Keith Bryant and Todney Evans.
Watching them put it all together was Bean, 45, who said last Thursday he "got into their souls" with a story he told that week. He told them how football became his sanctuary.
It was 2003. Bean was in the midst of the toughest year of his life. He was a first-year head coach at his alma mater, a place with sky-high expectations, where fans and parents revel in playing Saturday morning quarterback. He recalls being a first-year teacher, navigating the choppy seas of the classroom and its codes.
And his mother was dying of pancreatic cancer. Annie Doris Bean, 70, was losing her fight against the same disease that took Homer Bean, Chris' father, five years before.
For weeks, Chris Bean would shuttle between the hospital and school. Along the way, the lines between his personal and his professional lives blurred. He related the preciousness of life to his players.
"At the hospital, I see people struggling to take two or three steps," he told them. "Or can't walk at all. Every time you're able to play at a high level, understand your blessings."
He forcefully delivered that message before his team played Dwyer, which wore pink jerseys for breast cancer awareness month. His players, many of whom have known plenty of heartbreak and struggle, responded.
"This one's for you, Coach," Spells told Bean in the postgame huddle. "We're a family."
Now, the chance for a district title is real, and sustained success can be a team's best motivator. At Monday's practice, an assistant coach dared a group of players to "raise your hands if you've won a district title for Atlantic High School." His was the only one raised.
Whatever the players' motivation, Bean will guide them.
"Wins and losses are all people care about," Bean said. "It's so much more than that."