The Charleston Gazette
To appear in Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on:
Sammy LeRose was a young 37. He was our new football coach. He was quick in his step, confident, successful and he was kind. In 1953, my senior year, Coach LeRose came to St. Albans High School from Gauley Bridge High. We were hopeful. He helped us fulfill our hope. We had a winning season for the first time in five years.
The next year, his team lost only one game. In his third season, most of the starters from the year before had graduated. He welcomed a bunch of very small inexperienced players to the 1955 season. His Kennedy Award winning quarterback weighed 130 pounds, and at least one tackle weighed only 140 pounds! They won every game they played and the state championship. Although St. Albans didn’t even have a track, Coach LeRose’s track teams won four state titles.
So what was his method, his philosophy? How did he succeed so fast at a school that had quit winning? Players at other schools were astounded. They couldn’t believe what they had heard. Some even came to see for themselves.
Unlike any other team, we practiced in shorts in the afternoon of those hot and horrible August two-a-day workouts! Our morale soared. We worked on timing and went over real game scenarios without the pain.
Coach LeRose told us that he would wait each day for one-half hour, after we got dressed and on the field, before coming out to start practice. He said, “You linemen, get out there and kick the ball, pass the ball, enjoy that half-hour.”
He convinced us that every play could go for a touchdown, and that cheating was wrong and a waste of time. He never taught us any dirty tricks or rule benders. Sammy LeRose taught us to think for ourselves. He sent every play in from the bench, but we were to make changes if we saw a weakness in the other team that he didn’t see. His bag of trick plays added to our and our fans’ joyful experience.
Coach LeRose played as many players as he possible could. Little, fast guys were put in on the kickoffs, and their enthusiasm seemed to get them downfield before the ball. Word got around that if you hustled, Coach LeRose would let you play. On the first day of his first season, there were only 45 of us. The third season, that championship season, he dressed 125 players! What a sight as they completely encircled the field and the other team as they trotted out for pre-game workouts.
I never heard Coach LeRose raise his voice in anger, nor did I ever hear him curse. He was gentle and compassionate. He taught us to never express disgust with our mistakes, no temper tantrums, no helmet throwing, no kicking the ground, no cursing. Everything was positive about Sam LeRose. He never jumped on anyone for a mistake. He very patiently, and with his kind smile, helped us correct our miscues. He lifted us up and never did we feel humiliated.
Next to my parents, Sammy LeRose was without a doubt the most influential person in my life. For a period of just twelve weeks when I was turning seventeen, this man gave me self-confidence and allowed me to succeed. He may have saved my life. Rest in peace, good man, rest in peace.
Sam LeRose coached the St. Albans High School football team from 1953 to 1956 and from 1962 to 1973. Every season was a winning season. His record was 124-35-3. He coached a state champion football team and four state champion track teams. Coach LeRose died November 3, 2003. My junior year under the previous coach I played thirty seconds in one game. My senior year weighing 150 pounds I played left tackle, nose guard or linebacker and made the all-conference team.