From COVID to Championship, Nolan Catholic is focusing on 'controlling the controllables'
Fort Worth Nolan Catholic football made news early in the pandemic when its coaches' plans to get through quarantine went viral. The Vikings' head football coach, David Beaudin, alongside the head strength coach, K.J. Williams as well as the rest of the coaching staff decided to keep their athletes active by posting various workout challenges on their Twitter pages.
The helpfulness and dedication from the student-athletes proved to be beneficial once the 2020-2021 season was permitted to begin. Nolan Catholic has posted their second undefeated season in over a decade on their quest for another TAPPS state title.
Last season, the Vikings went undefeated until being knocked out of playoffs. Before that, the last time the Vikings posted an undefeated season was in the 2009-2010 season under head coach Joe Prudhomme. Prudhomme also led Nolan Catholic to a state championship win over Trinity Christian. After six more seasons and three more state titles (2011, 2012, and 2013) with the Vikings, Prudhomme left giving Beaudin the reigns. Beaudin has led the Vikings to the playoffs every year with a total record of 35-16 so far in his five seasons as head coach. Last season, Beaudin led Nolan Catholic to an undefeated regular season before losing to John Paul II in the second round of playoffs. Coach Williams believe the loss to John Paul II last season is just one of the things that helped the team grow. "Losing that game was the first time we had been tested, so it set the tone for the off season," he said.
This past weekend, after coming off of a BYE week, Nolan Catholic met John Paul II again in the playoffs where they defeated the Cardinals 32-17. Coach Williams added that the win this year was "just a reward for all their hard work." The win meant an incredible amount to the players as well: "[The win over John Paul II] means a lot to me because I was there last year; it felt horrible," Kaleb James said in an interview. "We used last year's loss as motivation and learned from it, but winning that game was just part of our goal. We accomplished it and now we're focusing on getting to state." Senior quarterback and Cornell commit, Jimmy Taylor, describes the win over John Paul II as an "indescribable achievement" for him. "A well coached team is always hard to beat, especially a team with the caliber of players they have," Taylor added. "So overall it was a surreal experience that fuels our upcoming games."
Now the Vikings, with an undefeated record, are headed in to the semifinals against All Saints Episcopal who have a 3-3 record and were 0-2 in district play. "All Saints is a team that plays their hardest against us," junior cornerback Keontae Williams said. "What I've learned this season is that I will have to start out fast against this team." In the pocket, though, Taylor says he's learned that his team is consistently great in the second half of football games. "This weekend will be no different," Taylor says. "To come up with a great victory, we will need four quarters of great operation and skill."
As for the coaches? Coach Beaudin is most looking forward to seeing his team play their brand of football that he describes as "tough, hard nosed, fast smart, physical and playing the game the right way. Honoring the game, so to speak… Each man on this team adds tremendous value and I'm so grateful. Excited to watch them GET TO play again." Coach Williams says he's "excited to watch our guys fly around and play together again. This season was not promised, so anytime I can watch our kids play and have the opportunity to coach them, I'm all in for it!"
With COVID-19 concerns, the 2020-2021 season, as Coach Williams said, was not promised. This hasn't been a secret to the athletes either. "This season was not guaranteed," Taylor said. "We never knew which game could be our last, so throughout the season we played as if each game could be the last one we played." With less games, the young men had to focus on everything a little bit more than usual. "We had to make do with the time we had to prepare," James said regarding losing the opportunity to practice fundamentals at spring practices and summer camps.
Although so much was cancelled, the team continues to be a special group of guys that continued to keep grinding through what could have been the most difficult off season for every team that could not meet in person to practice. Each athlete has only had great things to say about their coaches and the challenges that kept them busy while at home. "I'd say we were the only team putting in the extra work on our own during the quarantined period," Keontae Williams said while James believes that the challenges from the coaches helped the team "get an edge on the other teams." Aside from being physically tough, Taylor believes it helped their mental game as well. "I believe the workouts and the countless hours of pain that we endured during quarantine has helped us become mentally tough and prepared us to win this season. We will not be beat," Taylor said.
"I have learned a great deal from these guys," Coach Beaudin added. "My hope is always that they learn from me half of what I have learned from them. If so, I am doing something right. It is sort of coach-speak to say we need to 'control the controllable,' but there is a lot of truth to it. This group has proven that when you do that, you can always continue to be positive and continue to have success. This is not a group who complains or worries about all of the adversity thrown their way. Rather, they just continue to keep their head held high and work extremely hard." Coach Beaudin says it has been inspiring to be around the team especially since there is a great sense of gratitude as the guys realized they don't "have to" be there everyday, but rather they "get to." That kind of strength and mental toughness takes a special group of guys. Beaudin says what makes this group so special is "how much they genuinely love one another. It's real and authentic. They don't want to let one another down because they care so much and they celebrate the success of their teammates."
Coach Williams added that this group is special because they consistently bring the same energy to practice every single day. "They all want to compete at everything. In the classroom, on the field, int he weight room… almost everything with this team is a competition. This team has taught me that if we all believe, no mater what it is, then we can accomplish anything. Our kids buy into our program. Everyday Coach Beaudin makes sure we stress culture and belief before skills and techniques; you see that through our players in the way that they play for each other."
On a theme of working for each other, I asked Jimmy Taylor, Kaleb James, Keontae Williams as well as Coach Williams and Coach Beaudin what one piece of advice they would share with the team going into the semifinal game was-
Taylor: "Trust each other. No individual is greater than the team and together we can not be beaten."
James: "Finish. I think we know what we have ahead of us and we just need to keep attacking everything at 100% until we reach that end goal: a state title."
K. Williams: "We need to start off fast, keep our head on the right track, and stay home so we don't have to moss our on our ring."
Coach Williams: "Continue to play for each other. Football is the ultimate team sport. The team meaning players, coaches, students, teachers, athletes, admin, trainers, equipment… everything. We will win and lose together."
Coach Beaudin: "Focus on us. As always, have respect for our opponent, but just focus on us. Also, just reiterate that every play has a life of its own. Meaning, the play before or the play after, whether good or bad, has no impact on the current moment. We can not let it. Goes back to 'controlling the controllables.' Just focus on our job in the moment. Don't worry about doing anything more than our job. Certainly don't do less, but just focus on our job and we will be in good shape."