High Schools - Quite a turnaround for West Catholic entering PIAA Class AA title game
ALBIE CROSBY lined up at defensive back. Dennis Fluck stationed himself at linebacker. Both guys, now veteran football assistants at West Catholic High, are also former players, so this was way back in the day.
ALBIE CROSBY lined up at defensive back. Dennis Fluck stationed himself at linebacker.
Both guys, now veteran football assistants at West Catholic High, are also former players, so this was way back in the day.
Oops. Check that. Not too far back.
The year was 2001. The Burrs would finish 3-9. One day at practice, third-year coach Brian Fluck looked around to see only 19 players and, yes, he called upon his assistants, sans equipment, to help flesh out the defense.
"It's only going to get better," Brian Fluck, Dennis' younger brother (by 10 years), said he kept muttering through that practice. "It's only going to get better."
Quite the prophet, that Brian Fluck.
In 2008, due to a high-powered offense, West is perhaps Pennsylvania's most intriguing scholastic team. Saturday, it will complete 4 months of straight-through commitment by facing Wilmington, of New Wilmington, about 55 miles north-northwest of Pittsburgh, for the PIAA Class AA title.
If the favored Burrs win to finish 15-1, Fluck will experience two levels of joy. The normal variety, yes. But, you see, he's also a former West lineman (class of '88) and he takes great pride in knowing he has rebuilt a program that had badly sagged (1-29 in the previous three seasons) before his appointment 10 years ago.
"The first thing we needed to do," Fluck said, "was get the kids to respect themselves again, and build some character. Once we did that, and got some athletes in here who could play the game, we got better and better.
"Once you get to the top, it's easier to maintain things. People want to be associated with a winner."
Fluck buries himself in all that is West.
The dedication he shows while helping his players pursue college opportunities is legendary. In summertime, he has been known to pile guys into his van and travel around the country to assorted campuses. He also serves West as the director of athletics and admissions.
This is his fifth year in that latter role, which involves visiting grade schools to pump everything West has to offer, then organizing visitation days and open houses.
Are some of the wide-eyed kids football players? Of course. Might the coach have an extra second or 3 for those who ask questions? He's no dummy. After all, football joy can improve overall atmosphere,
"Our school has been rejuvenated," Fluck said. "Everybody here walks around with a lot of pride in being part of West Catholic. And it's great to see the alumni support we're getting."
Fluck played his CYO football for now-defunct St. Clement, in Southwest Philly. His brother and father, Stanley, were among his coaches and he knew pretty early he wanted to follow their lead. He also drew inspiration from his own line coach at West, Ralph Rapino.
By '02, the Burrs were playing for the championship in what was then the Blue Division. Although they experienced four straight title-game setbacks, they broke through for crowns in '06 and '07 and this season has been nothing short of magical.
It's almost easier to list the city records not broken.
The headliners have been quarterback Curtis Drake, bound for Penn State ostensibly to play wideout, and tailback Rob Hollomon. Just call them Fast and Faster.
"It's one thing to see the plays live," Fluck said, smiling. "It's even better on film. Each time you rewind, you see something new that amazes you. As coaches, we laugh because what's happening out there sometimes has nothing to do with coaching. Just pure athleticism. God-given ability."
A few years back, Fluck was asked to coach the defensive line at Michigan State. He declined. He also nixed Division II opportunities. His mother, Theresa, who has since passed away, was in poor health. As was his father.
"It just came down to this fact: I wanted to stay around here," he said. "Once you get so involved in this place, it's really hard to leave. I wanted to put us back on the map.
"I get rejuvenated every year. Each new group gets you excited. It's always, 'I can't wait to see this kid when he's a senior.' I'm always dealing with a great bunch of kids."
And a lack of sleep.
"Whether here or at home, I'm always thinking of something that needs to be done," he said. "Then I do it. I try to get at least some half-days of relaxation."
Come Sunday, there will be no next game to prepare for.
"I might not even get out of bed," Brian Fluck cracked. *