More Than Touchdowns: AB Football
BY ERIC ZHAO '25
Fighters are people with courage, determination, and the ability or disposition to fight, struggle, and rebound. It’s also how second-year head coach Justin Bernard describes his team. Coach Bernard first arrived on the scene last year when he took over Tim Bassett’s role as head coach.
“I think we showed them last week when we went against a really good [Wachusett] football team…,” Bernard expressed. “...we went in there, got hits in—we kept fighting the whole time, and these guys… they just haven’t given up yet, they just kept fighting the whole way.”
Offensive and defensive lineman William Steinkrauss ’24 describes Coach Bernard as an “amazing coach” and “football mind.” In just his second year of coaching, Coach Bernard has already gained extensive knowledge. His key takeaway was that it’s valuable to seek success through gradual improvement and a growth mindset. He noted his struggle to mold athletes that don’t play football to flourish on the turf. “I think [it’s important to] just [understand] more that it’s a team sport and that you’ve got to get to know the community in particular and what kids need,” he stated.
In 2021, the team finished with a one win, seven losses record. Some may view this as unsuccessful, but Coach Bernard doesn’t see it that way. “Success is a subjective word, right? So, I think guys looking at an overall record and whether it’s above .500 then yeah, not success, but when I look at success it’s just where do you start as a football player and then what are you trying to get out of it.” Bernard says that many of the players, especially the less experienced ones, have improved significantly since the start of the season. “[We’re] learning how to play the sport and play it the right way, so in terms of that area I think, maybe it doesn’t look to the outside that we’re achieving but I’d say we’re getting a lot of success in that regard.”
About an hour after the end of each school day, football players go from the study hall to the locker room, and then head towards the grass field, clad in helmets, pads, and uniforms. Steinkrauss ‘24 describes the practices as brutal, emphasizing that they “have to stay locked in the whole time.” Bernard praises his players’ work ethic, “I think the players work super hard. [Even with schoolwork, they] look over some of their plays [and] get out to practice every single day on time, [practicing] for two-and-a-half hours every single day leading up to a game.”
For the foreseeable future, Bernard will play a major role in AB’s football program. Bernard wants to bring a winning culture to the program, but he’s also focused on creating success in another way: giving players skills they’ll need to get to the next level and to apply in the real world. “Acton-Boxborough, [had a] lot of long-time success up until the year I was here, [I’m] just trying to live up to those standards and get it back to a winning program above .500 and helping kids also get to college and get the full football experience,” he said. “I think it’s a craft and is something that you learn to commit to and then also work within a whole group of individuals and learn how to play within a team element. That’s what I want players to get out of the whole thing…”
When most people think of football, they typically think of guys in pads tackling each other, but it's a mental game too. And a player’s mentality is what Bernard says makes them great. “You could ask ten different coaches and you’d get ten different answers… for me a great player is someone that shows up to practice every single day and really embraces new tasks,” he said, “because with football you’re playing so many different offenses and defenses every single week, you have to have a player that’s willing to take on and learn new things in order to be successful.” His players seem to agree with that. Their philosophy? “Hard work. You gotta work hard. Nothing in life is handed to you.” Steinkrauss ‘24 said. Running back and safety Trey Clayton’s ‘25 philosophy? “Hit ‘em in the mouth.”
On game day, Friday Night Lights is in full swing, with players wearing jerseys during the school day and the student section packed at the game. “[Our supporters] mean so much to us— everything I do is for [them],” Steinkrauss ‘24 said.
Success is different for everyone, no matter if it’s a sports coach or someone with a standard living routine. Success doesn’t have to be one clear cut path; it will vary by person and goal. For Coach Bernard, success isn’t only about winning, but also improving his team as individuals and teaching them to work as a team. And maybe for you, the reader, while immediate success is flashy and what you want to see, try and focus on moving towards your future goals too, even if it’s just baby steps.