Writer / Kevin Conrad Photographer / Chris Williams
Roncalli’s 2016 state championship football season can best be captured in one word: Remarkable.
“It was a remarkable season in many regards,” recalls Roncalli Head Coach Bruce Scifres. The Rebels’ perfect season came to a perfect end the day after Thanksgiving at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Their IHSAA Class 4A victory over Northwood, 34-22, was their ninth football state title and the first since 2004. “I think primarily because of the awesome leadership we got from our players and our seniors in particular. All the effort and hard work they gave us, and it was remarkable in that we were able to go 15-0.
“We knew from the get-go that this group had a lot of potential,” said Scifres. “As with any season, you hope that kids are going to work hard, strive each day to make the most of their God-given ability, create good team chemistry and avoid injuries as all those things go into a win-loss record through the course of the season. So it is remarkable that these kids were able to do those things through 15 games.”
Hard Work Pays Off
Roncalli High School is rich in football tradition. The southside school’s nine football state championships are the fourth best in Indiana. Through the years of success, hard work has been the program’s cornerstone. “Faith or belief in each other and believing that if they worked hard and did things the right way, they deserve to be successful,” Scifres remarked. “I think it is that belief that leads to good work ethic, and common belief leads to kids having each other’s back. It’s knowing that if they do their job, the guy next to them is going to his job as well, and everybody is going to do their part.
“It’s belief in the coaches and the game plan we put together for them each week – to trust and believe in the program and when we were faced with so many opportunities to fold in so many close games and games where we had to come from behind. The core of all of this is their faith and belief in one another and in the team and program.”
Too Close for Comfort
The Rebels’ perfect 15-0 season wasn’t without some nail-biters. “I believe seven or eight of them were within one score or one touchdown,” Scifres recalled. “During the tournament, two times we kicked a field goal with two seconds to go on the clock to win.”
Scifres is very proud of how his team competed in every game. “So many times, our kids were facing adversity, and it would have been very easy for them to fold, but they never did,” he said. “When you put all of that in perspective, it really was a remarkable season. This is a reflection of the character and the type of young men that these guys were and whom I was blessed to work with this season.”
The 2016 state title is Scifres’ seventh as Roncalli’s head coach. He believes great senior leadership has always been the heart and soul of his championship teams. This year was no exception. “This group of seniors was just unbelievable as well as the great team chemistry we had this year. In so many ways, these players in the years that you have them, especially the seniors, in so many ways have become like our sons. Gosh, I love them, and I’m proud of them. Proud of what they were able to accomplish and the hard work they have put in. Proud of the young men they have become.
“There is an old saying,” Scifres recounts. “We are going to be receiving state championship rings. ‘But it’s not much about what you get when you reach your destination as much as what you have become.’ I think that our guys are and seniors, in particular, have become outstanding young men. So in that regard, we are absolutely going to miss them. I’m excited about what they do in the years to come. I have no doubt they are going to be very successful in whatever career paths they choose and also confident they will be just good men, husbands and fathers. They have shown that they have the character to do those things – to become the men that God created them to be. I am excited about that.”
Scifres doesn’t take lightly the impact he and the other coaches have in the lives of their players. “I pray every day that I might have a positive influence on their lives and hopefully made a difference in their growth as young men,” said Scifres. “That is one of the neat things that has kept me coaching this long. I feel like I’ve been given an opportunity or have been blessed with an opportunity to have a positive influence on their lives.”
Scifres’ Pillars for Success
Scifres has spent his entire 27 years of head coaching at Roncalli. He ranks seventh in the state among the winningest active high school coaches, and his program is tied for fifth place with seven state titles.
“In my career, the primary motivating factor for me is my hope that as a coach, I am able to make a difference in the lives of young men that we work with,” Scifres shared. “That’s my top priority and the priorities of my program. At a parochial school like Roncalli, our priorities are: No. 1: Faith development of our players. Parents are paying a lot of money to send them to a parochial school, so faith is at the core of everything we do in our program.
“No. 2: Character development. We want our players to be good sons to their parents and to love and honor their parents. Down the road, we want them to become devoted and faithful husbands to their wives and strong and loving fathers to their children. Those are our top priorities in our program, and I always make sure that our assistant coaches understand that and are 100 percent on board with it.”
“No. 3: Get a good education. The academic part of what we do there at Roncalli.
“No. 4: That they be good football players,” Scifres concluded. “That they can tackle, score points, touchdowns, etc. What I have learned over the years is that when those first three priorities are in place – faith-filled young men with good character and they put their academics where they should be – then they are going to be hard workers. They will have great attitudes and have a great work ethic and determination. All those things are going to be put in place, and kids will become good football players.”