"Real Man" Raiders head coach Gaitan Rodriguez taking his message to the next level.
TORRINGTON: There is a reason why men like Torrington football head coach Gaitan Rodriguez are helping the young men he leads in succeeding at something far greater than wins and losses on the field. He is teaching them how to win at life.
Rodriguez and his Raiders are in the midst of a rebuilding campaign after the majority of the squad that posted a 9-1 record a year ago, graduated as young men who will certainly have the opportunity to be great men as they get older.
Since coming to Torrington four years ago, Rodriguez has never been about the wins and losses as much as he has been creating what he likes to call “Warrior Gentlemen”.
Warriors while playing, gentlemen in life.
I stopped by the Raiders practice on Tuesday afternoon to see how the team was preparing during their bye-week after an uplifting 42-14 comeback win over Holy Cross on Saturday in Waterbury, ending a three game skid that saw their record fall to 1-4 going in.
My plan was to talk to a couple of players about how they feel they can build off a win that had to build some confidence in a team that was so very inexperienced as the 2016 campaign kicked off.
After all, only three of them (yes three) had seen any amount of significant playing time a year ago so everything, and I mean everything, was new for most.
While talking to Rodriguez, a guy who truly loves coaching young men at the place he called home during his time at THS, I noticed a band around his wrist that read “Real Man”.
Asking him about it led me to discover just how true he is to the cause of helping teach young men how to become true gentlemen as they grow up.
Turns out, “R.E.A.L. Man” is a program created by a gentlemen named Frank D.B. DiCocco who was an assistant coach and director of player development for nearly a decade, working at both the high school and collegiate levels.
Coach DiCocco dedicated his life, one that only spanned 29-years (April 13, 1984 to April 29, 2013) but had an impact far greater than that limited time frame.
The “Real Man” program is a unique and comprehensive character-education curriculum designed specifically for the challenges young men face in today’s society.
It is a program that includes 20 lesson plans designed to help today’s youth reach their full potential and give them a better sense of right and wrong and how to act in many situations.
In short, it helps coaches like Rodriguez with the lessons he teaches his students and players about how to succeed in life.
The “Real” in Real Man has a profound and significant meaning, never more so than in today’s climate in the classroom, public and even elections, like the one we have coming up soon.
“R” stands for Respect All People
“E” stands for Especially Women.
“A” stands for Always do the Right Thing”
“L” stands for Live a Life That Matters”
Sports and locker rooms in particular came into the forefront this election season when one Presidential candidate suggested that lewd and inappropriate language towards woman that was caught on tape in 2005 was just “Locker Room” talk.
Not in a Rodriguez locker room, or field or classroom or anytime he is around though.
“We are teaching these young men what it means to be a man,” Rodriguez said. “And that will never include making discouraging remarks about women at any time.”
At a time in which a perceived reality and actual reality lines can be blurred on social media and on the nightly newscasts, making it seem as if these kind of remarks in casual conversations when just talking with the guys is okay.
To Rodriguez they never will be.
Part of the challenge Rodriguez faced this year was how to articulate his message to this very young group.
A year ago, a team tradition before most games (usually after the last practice that week) was to take part in a pasta supper that was held under the pavilion near the Torrington Public Pool.
It was a chance for the family that is most teams to do one of the most basic and sacred things we all do with our own families. Share a meal together.
This year though, it was time to take things to a different mental and “Real Man” level before the games.
“I changed things up a bit this year,” Rodriguez said. “Instead of the pasta supper, I get the team together and talk about the choices they make every day and how it effects not only them but everyone around them. We do talk about how they should treat woman, what is acceptable and what’s not in that treatment.”
Coach knows from what he talks about from personal experience, being brought up by his mother.
“I spent a great deal of time growing up with my mother, my aunts,” Rodriguez said. “I know what it’s like for a single mother so I’ve always had a protective nature as to how woman should be treated.”
This always hits home with me, a guy also raised by a single mother from the age of 14 and to this day has the utmost respect for the job she did.
It’s such an important lesson for the men in our society to understand.
Build up everyone, push down no one, man or women.
Another great example of the tremendous men and woman we have teaching our children at Torrington High School and throughout our region.
Its guys like my friend Gaitan Rodriguez, whose big goals that don’t simply apply to the football field but to something so much greater in terms of shaping the future leaders in our world.
As always coach, well done good sir.
NOTES: Two moments of the Raiders practice stuck out to me on Tuesday but they had nothing to do with football and everything to do with accountability, maturity and positive reinforcement.
Point one came as Raiders assistant coach Bob Reynolds was a bit frustrated with the team’s lack of awareness as to what time it was, where they should be and what they should be doing without being told.
He let them know that at some point, they had to start taking ownership of everything, even practice without having to be reminded every time out.
This frustration comes with youth and the Raiders staff has done a magnificent job of working this team towards a goal of being the best they can.
Point two came not long afterwards when Reynolds, a guy who has been teaching this game of life for a good long time, could be heard reminding those same players that “You’re getting better every day.”
Positive reinforcement for actions that live up to the expectations that not only apply to the gridiron but more importantly to life.
“R. E. A. L Man”
… In 2011, DiCocco founded the H.O.P.E (Helping Other People Succeed) Foundation which is a non-profit organization set up to award scholarships to deserving students across the country.
DiCocco spent some time coaching locally at Avon Old Farms and two alumni from the institution were recipients of the award.
Derek Kasperzyk won it in 2014, Louis Quinones took home the honor a year later.