Notre Dame Prep looks for success under new head coach

The Notre Dame Prep football field (By Justin Maskulinksi)

The Notre Dame Prep football field (By Justin Maskulinksi)

The Notre Dame Preparatory High School football team’s Monday morning workout ended in a way that tested the strength and endurance of the team.

New NDP head coach Mark Nolan had the team split up into groups as the players lifted the barbell until exhaustion, all accompanied with “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash blasting through the weight room speakers.

“That was a challenge exercise,” Coach Nolan said of the Ring of Fire workout. “They’re gonna hit the wall at some point—and then how do they react to that, how do they push through that fatigue, how do they work together with their spotter to kind of work through that. That’s part of the training.”

Coach Nolan has been on-site at the Scottsdale school for six weeks, and he says it is very similar to the last place he coached—Regis Jesuit High School in the Denver area.

The various workouts are one way Coach Nolan is getting to know his new players, but not the only way. He had a chance to see some film of players and it proved to be advantageous.

“It was tremendously helpful to kind of identify the culture and identify the kids,” Coach Nolan said. “The upside of being new is everybody starts over. Everybody. Starting from ground zero, everyone can earn their own way–it’s kind of like a reset button of sorts.”

Coach Nolan said he is settled in now.

“The adjustment period is over,” Coach Nolan said. “I know most, if not all of the names of the varsity guys. We’re figuring out what we’re good at in all three phases of the game and we’re getting better in the weight room. There’s lots of work to do, but I think everyone is enjoying it.”

Student athletes in the weight room. (By Justin Maskulinski)

Student athletes in the weight room. (By Justin Maskulinski)

Adjusting to a new coach

One phase of the game is offense, and the Saints’ offense will be led by senior quarterback Bryce Wolf.

Wolf says Coach Nolan sought him out when he arrived at NDP and told him he will need to be a leader of the team moving into the year.
Wolf will have two offensive weapons returning in 2015 in seniors wide receiver Jeffrey Kindorf and running back Connor Graham. Kindorf had 35 receptions for 435 yards in 2014 and Graham rushed for 652 yards and scored five touchdowns.

Wolf says the experience of Kindorf and Graham will help him this season.

“It’s going to be very helpful throughout the season because they’ve started on varsity for three years now,” Wolf said. “They’re both very good players who know how to run and catch the ball. They put up a lot of good numbers last year and I can’t wait to see what they do this year.”

Another phase of the game is defense, and senior middle linebacker Tyler Taffuri also had a talk about leadership with his new head coach.

“He watched the film and told me that I made a lot of plays last year,” Taffuri said. “He said I needed to step up again this year.”

Both Taffuri and Wolf were statistical leaders for NDP in the 2014 season. Wolf led the team with 1,216 passing yards and 13 passing touchdowns while Taffuri led the defense with 83 tackles.

After a successful junior year, complacency is a possibility heading into the next season. Taffuri says Coach Nolan is challenging the players to improve.

“He gave us a list of things to improve on and then we just built it from there,” Taffuri said.

Wolf says Coach Nolan challenged the players to work for their spots in the lineup.

“Coach came in and said, ‘You still need to work for your spots. No spots are given–you have to work your hardest,’” Wolf said. “I’m going to keep pushing the team and make sure we keep getting better and better each day.”

Coach Nolan’s approach to leadership gives all of the NDP players a chance to prove themselves.

“Each week we’ll select four different captains based on what they did in the previous week,” Coach Nolan said. “Right now we have not anointed captains. Those who lead are leading and we want to encourage them to lead stronger. The reality is every kid has influence, every kid is a leader. But is he leading in a positive or negative direction with his teammates and his buddies?”

Coach Nolan wants to reward his players for their hard work.

“We want to encourage a meritocracy, where guys are earning everything they get,” he said.

High expectations in 2015

Despite their 4-6 record in 2014, the expectations for 2015 are high in the halls of NDP.

“I’m expecting a deep playoff run from this team,” Taffuri said. “We’ve got a bunch of returning starters and a bunch of young guys that have a ton of talent. If we can put it all together and stay healthy, I can see us going far in the playoffs.”

Taffuri says mastering the mental side of the game will lead the Saints to success.

“We need a good attitude as a team,” Taffuri said. “We can’t just take days off. Every single day we have to grind.”

Wolf says teamwork is another key to NDP achieving its goals.

“We all need to work together,” Wolf said. “Each day we need to keep improving and keep building our pedestal and working our way to the top.”

Coach Nolan has one goal for the Saints in 2015.

“Regardless of where I coach, we want to have our goals match the highest level of accomplishment,” Coach Nolan said. “Our goal every year here is going to be to win the state championship.”

The Notre Dame Prep 2015 football schedule can be found at http://www.ndpsaints.org/page.cfm?p=549&teamID=134&display=Schedule.

Scottsdale Independent Sports Correspondent Justin Maskulinski can be contacted at jmaskulinski@newszap.com. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/Maskulinski.

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