By RUSTIN WATT
• Leader & Times
It only comes around once a year, and as many wait for fall to come, the players grind it out in preparation during the summer. A new season, perhaps a fresh start, with new Liberal head coach Cliff Abbott at the helm. Abbott has been a part of the Liberal community, coached the middle schoolers and Kids Inc. teams, played in the NFL, and when the opportunity arose to coach the Redskins, Abbott was ready.
“It was a combination of a lot of things that made it come to be,” Abbott said. “A lot of it was being a part of the community and knowing what the Redskin is, and what it has been, and what people desire it to be. I think a lot of people talk about it but if your going to complain about it, be willing to go in and go to work. When the opportunity arose to take the job, I was very humbled, and very surprised. The decision came with a lot of counseling with different people, a lot of prayer, and visiting with my family and discussing the commitment level that it would have to be, not only from me, but from them.”
Being a part of the community and giving back was also big in Abbott’s decision.
“It was more than saying, ‘I think I want to do this,’” Abbott said. “It was a combination of a lot of things along with giving back to a community that has been tremendous to me and my family. Being able to raise four boys here, we know so many of the youth, and I believe they deserve the best that we can give them. I’m not saying I’m the best by any means, but we’re going to give them everything we can to give them an opportunity to be successful.”
Abbott takes the reigns of a program that has been on a steady decline since playing in seven consecutive state championship games from 1991 to 1997. His main focus since being with the kids has been focusing on the ‘old school things,’ discipline, hard work, and character, not only on the field but off the field as well.
“I don’t think we’re going to be the most talented team this year, and I don’t think we’re going to be the biggest team,” Abbott said. “But I do know that we are not going to get outworked, and we’re going to have some mental toughness about us just because of our discipline. Those are things we wanted to put back into being a Redskin again, the discipline of hard work and the rewards from that. And it’s more than just hard work, but being a productive citizen in our community. We tell them if they have a summer job, we talk about being there on time, what to do and how to treat others. Academics as well and how we want to be leaders in that. We want all our athletes in the first two rows and to be there on time. We want them to be a part of that classroom, not saying they have to be the smartest in there, but being disciplined is all you need to do to be productive there.”
Along with developing a mentality and appreciation of what it means to be a Redskin it’s a steady climb and process to compete, stemming from developing confidence with those old school things.
“We ask our kids to find one thing that they can be the best at in the state,” Abbott said. “And when they find out what that is, that they hone in on it, and when it comes time to shine they’re ready to go. I don’t know what that thing is, they can pick it. It could be being the best one to run across the field and make gasser times, it could be being the best one in a stance. Whatever it is, ‘I’m going to be the best at something’, and then we’ll work from there and get that confidence. Get them to know that they’re the best at this and that they can prove it every time. We want to get that self confidence to our kids that they are good, and through hard work, they have earned the right to go compete at the state level.”
The ’Skins had their team camp in June and attended a padded team camp in Hutchinson before beginning their 6:30 a.m. workouts. Abbott believes strides are being made, numbers are up, and that they’re headed in the right direction.
“It’s a process,” Abbott said. “We had our camp here in early June, and it went well. The numbers were good, always want more numbers. We got a lot of work in and saw a lot of kids. From there we went to a team camp in Hutch, and it was a padded camp where we can go and compete. It was very competitive. There were teams like Dodge, Salina South, Carroll was there and we were able to compete. They had more numbers but the ones who came for us, they went toe to toe and they found out, ‘Hey I can compete,’ but we got to work and keep going. From there we got in Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning at 6:30 they were in the weight room and that was the next step. Our numbers have been building slowly since then from 50-60 and more and more are coming because the kids here now are getting excited. It’s not easy and it’s hard work at 6:30 in the morning, but man you ought to see the things we’re doing. They’re getting excited about it and bringing others in and hopefully we’ll build those numbers and build that character and build that work-ethic. Discipline is what we’re trying to bring. Then our motto is win the next game. Whatever that is, whoever it is, we want to win the next game, and we’re going to work to do that.”
The Redskin weight room comes to life each morning at 6:30 a.m. with a growing number of athletes who are buying in to new head coach Cliff Abbott’s philosophy of discipline and hard work. L&T photo/Rustin Watt