Perhaps the knowledge that their coach would soon be heading off to Navy service in Afghanistan has helped inspire the Bronx, N.Y.-based Maritime College football team to a 10-0 record.
Perhaps it was the great team building job by the coaching staff led by Annapolis graduate Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, a Lt. Commander in the Navy Reserve.
Whatever the reason, the Privateers have achieved a top 10 finish in the ECAC Lambert Meadowlands Division III Poll and is awaiting a playoff invitation coming out on Sunday.
Coach Kendrick-Holmes will soon be leaving the secluded campus at Fort Schuyler, under the Throgs Neck Bridge and its scenic football field overlooking Flushing Bay with a great view of the Manhattan skyline, to head for a Navy training facility and 10 months or so serving our country as a naval officer in war-torn Afghanistan.
When we met the coach after practice a couple of weeks ago, he described his feelings towards his upcoming military assignment, "Honored to be going, I am looking forward to serving my country there, I have been a Navy reservist for 11 years, this will be my first time going out as a reservist, I'm excited about going, its a great mission, a worthy cause."
The native of LaFayette, Ala., admits it was the chance to play football that led him to the military, "Initially my attraction to the Naval Academy was football only, I saw the opportunities that the Naval Academy had and I knew if I got a great education, which was very important to me.
"I always wanted to be a coach, the experience there, the leadership that I would gain, the experience throughout the world as an officer would serve me well, I never thought I would be able to do both."
A 1992 graduate of USNA, he served three years aboard the USS ROBERT G. BRADLEY (FFG-49), where he held the roles of Assistant Navigator, Administration Officer, and Damage Control Assistant.
After completion of his sea duties, Kendrick-Holmes served as an instructor in the Damage Control curriculum at the Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, R.I.
He coached seven seasons at the Naval Prep School and two at the Citadel before being named in 2005 the Head Coach at the Maritime College.
On what he learned in the Navy that can be utilized as a coach, "As a naval officer one of your biggest jobs is to take care of your people. That is what we have done here, we have built a football program, if you are a football coach, you have to do whatever it takes to take care of your people.
"Being a coach is a 24/7 job, just like being a naval officer. There is a lot of carryover for either one. The leadership skills from both occupations tie together."
The football program at Maritime was restarted in 2005 as a club team and the next year achieved Division III status. The coaching staff has built the program around specific core values, they even have these values written on the back of their game jerseys.
Coach Kendrick-Holmes explains, "We wanted to build the program with a firm foundation, a solid footing. We have a concept called Warface, an acronym for: Work ethic, Accountability, Respect, Family, Character, and Enthusiasm.
"We really push those qualities for our guys, it is a whole person concept, it is not just on the football field, it is also in their personal lives, in their school work, in everything they do. If they are striving to be do well in those characteristics, they will be successful in life."
About how the players took the news that he would be leaving to join a military unit heading for the fight in Afghanistan, "It was a bit of a shock for them, it caused them to grow up fast. But they saw it is a continuum of what we preach here, I am practicing what I preach.
"I am holding them accountable, I am asking them to have character and commitment and to do the things which are right and what are asked of them. So when my call came, after getting over the initial shock, they understand what is going on."
Although much of the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan is being done by the Marines and the Army, the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard have been sending over thousands of experienced military people like Lt. CDR Klayton-Holmes to provide a mature presence to the operations.
The coach comments, "I'll be going over as an individual augmente in an administrative role, logistic support, that kind of job. I appreciate the prayers and support, this happens to people every day from all kinds of walks of life. I am honored to be part of it."
He expects to leave soon for a month of training at a domestic base before leaving in late December for Afghanistan.
Our prayers will be with him, and with all of the brave men and women he will be serving with, and their families.
The author conducts the Sons of the American Legion Radio Report every Monday at 2:30 PM and the West Point Football Report on Tuesdays at 5:30 PM. Both can be heard in Westchester County, N.Y., on 1460 AM and nationally on WVOX.com.
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