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Donning the blue and gold for Shelby County on Friday night remains the ultimate goal, but wrapping up in a black jersey on weekday afternoons seems like an odd way to get there.
Unless that is, you want to be one of the Rockets' leaders.
Each season SCHS's football coaching staff rewards players that show a high level of effort, commitment and sacrifice with back practice jerseys. Those jerseys give the rest of the team something to strive for and let the players know who they should watch if they’re looking for tips.
“We start out that first week of practice with everybody in a regular practice jersey,” Coach Todd Shipley said. “Then, after the first week, we evaluate their effort, ability on the field and their leadership. You don’t have to be a senior or even a starter. We just have to know that you’re committed to making the team and everyone around you better.”
Shipley and his staff started the reward system four years ago, and it certainly has caught on.
Matt Page, a senior receiver, said his is a source of pride.
“I got one when I was a sophomore, and as long as you don’t mess up, stay eligible and work hard, you get to keep it. You have to show up on time, and show that you deserve it each week. You can lose it.”
When the season opens up, those Black Shirts will be the players on whom the Rockets are counting.
“You want everybody that’s playing on Friday night to have earned a black shirt,” Page said. “It’s everybody’s goal, especially the underclassmen.”
Shipley said you don’t have to be a starter, or even in the top rotation. You just have to show that you earn it.
“We have some guys that you’d expect to have one that don’t, two big guys,” he said. “Guys have issues, and they might miss this or miss that, but they have to show that commitment level to get keep that shirt. Each week coaches can nominate guys for the shirts, and we discuss it, so they can earn it back.”
Those who haven’t earned a black jersey but perhaps should have, based on their experience abilities, are constantly reminded of it.
“We let them know about it all the time,” Page said. “Especially when two sophomores [Page’s brother Andrew Page and Michael Brooks] have them. We want them to earn those, they’re leaders for us.”
The Rockets’ begin preseason on Friday with a game against Lafayette at Dunbar at 7 p.m., and follow that with a home scrimmage at Daniel Field against Bullitt Central on Aug. 21.