Bruce Scifres’ place in Roncalli’s rich football history is confirmed by some extraordinary numbers.
And some extraordinary achievements.
The Rebels’ head coach has led the program to three-quarters of its postseason victories since its first season in 1969. Scifres has also been the man in charge through 12 sectional championships and six of Roncalli’s eight state titles.
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Scifres, who starts his 27th season at Roncalli, was hired on his 33rd birthday. It was news greeted with mostly shoulder shrugs at the time, as Scifres’ previous employment had been a seven-year stint as an assistant coach at Lawrence Central.
The first head coaching victory for Scifres, a Roncalli assistant from 1980-82, was his first head coaching win, period.
He now has 233 of them.
“I was really excited about the opportunity because of the fact I had been here three years as an assistant. I knew the school and felt like I knew the system,” said Scifres, 59. “I appreciated the faith-based environment. That was something I was really drawn to.
“For the most part, I felt ready. The years that I was assistant at Roncalli and JV coach at Lawrence Central kind of gets you ready as far as organization, practice planning and that kind of stuff.”
When Scifres took over as head coach, he and his wife, Jackie, were about to start a family.
Fast forward to today. The youngest of the couple’s four children, their daughter, Meggie, graduated from Roncalli this past spring and is now a freshman at Purdue University.
It’s a career in which Scifres has delivered 321 heartfelt pregame pep talks to Rebels’ squads, including seven in a state championship environment.
Along with titles in 1993, 1994, 1999 and the dynasty of 2002-04, Roncalli made it to the Class 4A championship game in 2005. The Rebels, leading 27-14 through three quarters, couldn’t hold off a strong charge by Lowell, which exited the RCA Dome with a 28-27 triumph.
Scifres’ career win percentage (.726) at Roncalli better resembles a point guard’s free throw accuracy.
Roncalli hasn’t faced 12-time state champion Cathedral since a sectional final loss to the Irish in 2012. Even so, longtime Irish head coach Rick Streiff has stood on the sideline opposite from Scifres enough times to gain the utmost respect from his longtime contemporary.
“When facing a Roncalli team, you knew that you were going to get a team that was fundamentally sound, was going to play very hard and was well-prepared,” Strieff said. “Bruce’s team was always going to have at least one wrinkle that you didn’t see coming.
“It’s fun to play Roncalli because they play the game the right way, and this is a direct result of coach Scifres.”
Scifres, the seventh head football coach in the school’s history, gradually reinvented himself over time, starting with that first game as head coach, a 28-14 loss at Franklin Central to kick off the 1990 regular season.
Young coaches with their careers in front of them aspire to claim state championships.
Scifres did and continues to.
However, he possesses a better understanding of preparing the young men he coaches for life after their days of screen passes and trap blocks are over.
“With old age we get thinner on top, but thicker around the middle,” said Scifres, pointing to a hairline that has receded over time. “Hopefully, in time we gain wisdom. I certainly have learned a lot about football over the years. I try to attend six or seven clinics every winter and learn as much about the game as it evolves as I can.
“I think I understand better what I believe to be the true role of a coach. What I call the essence of coaching. It’s just having a better grasp of that.”
Scifres is sometimes asked what he makes being a coach and physical education teacher at a parochial high school.
He answers the same way every time: “I tell them that I make a difference,” he said.
Don’t expect any of his players – current or otherwise – to respond differently.
Former Rebels All-State linebacker Jason Werner, a three-time state champion (2002-04) who went on to play at Purdue, turns 30 in September.
Lessons taught by Scifres remain with Werner every day, even though his playing days are starting to become a distant memory.
“If you never played for coach Scifres you don’t understand,” Werner said. “To have a coach who cares about you as a person and as a man … he was concerned for your well-being. You can’t say it enough. He genuinely cares about these kids.”
2016 football schedule
Aug. 19;at Southport;7 p.m.
Aug. 26;Franklin Central;6 p.m.*
Sept. 2;Chatard;7 p.m.
Sept. 9;at Plainfield;7 p.m.
Sept. 16;Scecina;7 p.m.
Sept. 23;at Brebeuf;7 p.m.
Sept. 30;Martinsville;7 p.m.
Oct. 7;Decatur Central;7 p.m.
Oct. 14;at Guerin Catholic;7 p.m.
* — at Lucas Oil Stadium
First & 10 with … Christian Brueggeman, Roncalli senior linebacker
1. What would you consider your team’s greatest strength going into this season?
We’re all real close on this team. We all get along and take accountability for anything that we might do wrong.
2. What’s something you think the team still needs to improve upon?
Probably making sure we know all the plays. Since we’ve got a new defensive coordinator this season there are some new plays we’re learning.
3. “One game at a time” clichés aside, which game on your schedule are you looking forward to the most?
Chatard. They beat us last year and are always a rival of ours. We’re looking forward to playing Guerin Catholic, too, because we’ve never played them before.
4. If you could pick a theme song for the 2016 Rebels, what would it be?
(Laughing) I don’t really know, to be honest.
5. What’s the most critical part of your pregame routine? Any particular superstitions?
I just try to get mentally ready for each game. Hydrate and make sure I eat right before a game. I’m kind of a simple guy.
6. What is your least favorite football team, pro, college or otherwise? How come?
I don’t have one. But I don’t have a favorite one, either.
7. If you could sit down for dinner with one athlete, who would it be?
Probably LeBron James. He’s just a ridiculous athlete, and I would be asking him a lot of questions.
8. What’s the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s team?
Last year for me, I wasn’t much of a leader. This season I’m going to have to step up and take more of a leadership role.
9. Roncalli fans will be proud of this team because …
We all work together and we’re all brothers. The community is just a family, and there’s always a lot of energy, even in the days leading up to games. There are no negatives at all.
10. If you could write the script for the 2016 season, how would it end?
I think we’re going to go to state. We made it to semistate last season. The loss at East Central is definitely motivating us.
Coach: Bruce Scifres
Last year: 9-5, lost to East Central 21-0 in Class 4A semistate
Who’s back: Offense — Luke Smock, senior WR; Jacob Fryar, senior TE; Aidan Parker, senior TW; Max Foster, junior OL; Will English, senior OL; Conner Gore, senior QB; Derek O’Connor, senior QB; Kenny Gillum, senior RB; Nate Fischer, senior RB; Cade Morgan, junior RB. Defense — Christian Brueggeman, senior LB; Gabe Otley, senior S; Josh Swan, senior LB; Patrick Sandler, senior K-P; Alex Kuntz, senior S.
Outlook: The Roncalli offense should remain potent with two starting linemen back along with Gillum (371 yards rushing) and Fischer (129) to run the football. Smock caught 16 passes a year ago for 205 yards, while Parker and Fryar had six and five receptions, respectively. Quarterbacks Gore and O’Connor attempted a combined four passes last season. Only one starter returns on defense, but it’s a good one in the 5-11, 200-pound Brueggeman, who recorded 72 tackles and two sacks. Otley is the Rebels’ top returning tackler with 85, while Swan had 54 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Senior kicker Sandler is also a valued commodity, having delivered on 8 of 13 field goals — including a long of 46 yards — and 38 of 38 PAT attempts.
Scifres says: “This group of players has worked very hard in the offseason. Our seniors have provided excellent leadership. If our guys continue to stay focused and work hard, and especially if we can keep our starters healthy, we have a chance to be very competitive this season.”