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Successful Roncalli coach puts winning in perspective

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When Bruce Scifres is asked to reflect on his 25 years as head football coach at Roncalli High School, one expects to be regaled with stories of the Rebels’ six state championships.

Or of the program’s 74 percent winning mark over that span.

Or of his ability to take sometimes less heralded and undersized players and transform them into overachieving teams.

But not Scifres. Not now.

Oh, the coach confesses, he still wants to win “more than anyone.” And the on-field success is certainly a matter of satisfaction. But they are not what matter most when looking back.

No, perspiration and perseverance have given way to perspective.

“I feel like over my career, I’ve become a better man,” Scifres said while watching practice recently. “I’ve become a better person, a better husband, a better father because of my experience here at Roncalli.

“We hear that coaches are an inspiration to their team, that they help their players grow and become better men. In a very real sense, I feel like I’ve become a better man.”

It’s not the kind of highlight-reel memory that one expects from the dean of area coaches.

Those who know him best, though, attest to the genuineness of the reflection.

“Every angle I have seen just emphasizes what a great man he is,” said Pat Kuntz, who played nose tackle on Roncalli’s three consecutive state championship teams from 2002 through 2004 and now is the Rebels’ defensive coordinator. “He is the man you want coaching your kids, and it has nothing to do with football.”

Sure, Scifres is an X’s and O’s coach, who can game plan and motivate with the best. It is something more, though, that those around him point to.

“He has a strong belief in God, and that belief pervades our football program from top to bottom,” athletics director Dave Toner said.

Humility and faith set the tone for the entire program, he continued.

“A coaching staff that demands much but does not swear; players that practice and play with great intensity but also great sportsmanship; and students that support both our coaches and players with wonderful enthusiasm and support throughout each fall season, regardless of our potential championship possibilities during any particular season, are the hallmark of Roncalli Rebel football.”

‘Belief in sticking together’

That support was no more evident, Kuntz recalls, than early in the 2002 season. The program was reeling with the death of a teammate and two players’ fathers in a matter of a few weeks.

A promising season started with four straight losses as the team came to grips with the emotional uppercut.

“We were so low,” Kuntz recalled. “There were tears at practice many days.

“Coach Scifres just kept instilling a belief in sticking together, in the brotherhood on that team. We listened. I didn’t think about anything except what coach Scifres said. That was my world.”

Soon, things began to turn around, spurred by a focused defense that allowed only eight points a game starting with a 42-7 turnaround against Elkhart Central.

“We never lost another game in that run,” said Kuntz, then a sophomore. Indeed, the Rebels put together 10 straight wins, including a sectional win over Cathedral and the state title against Fort Wayne Dwenger.

Two more titles followed for those teams, which included Kuntz, who went on to anchor the defensive line at Notre Dame, and safety Jason Werner, who played for Purdue. Both are now on Scifres’ staff.

Altogether, Scifres’ 24 teams have won six state titles and 74 percent of their games.

“The tradition of football success here at Roncalli never wavers, and our expectations for success are always very high, regardless of the talent level of our players in any particular year due to coach Scifres and his coaching staff’s efforts and expectations,” Toner said.

‘Strength and belief’

That success stems from a knack for rising about the clutter of team competition and outside distractions, Kuntz said.

“From a player perspective, I admire the ability of Bruce to motivate a group of young men and all focus on the same goal and with the same mindset,” he said. “I would do anything for him as a player. People underestimate that ability. The strength and belief all come from him.”

That belief goes far beyond football for Scifres, who has publicly shared his faith with others along the way, especially exhorting the young men in his program to become good husbands and fathers.

The coach has written and self-published two books, “Beyond The Goal Line — The Quest For Victory In The Game Of Life” and “A Real Man — A Guide To Becoming The Men Our Wives, Children And God Want Us To Be.”

That faith perspective comes from his parents, who raised eight children in Plainfield and just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this year. It was honed under the coaching of Kermit Davis at Plainfield and Bill Sylvester at Butler, where the young Scifres was a star running back and later inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame. It was tested and polished with his wife, Jackie, as the couple raised two girls and two boys, the latter playing for the Rebels.

In each book, Scifres intertwines the story of his teams with the quest to pursue a better life off the field.

The second book is dedicated to officer David Moore, a former player who died in the line of duty as an Indianapolis police officer just a few weeks before publication in 2011.

Scifres’ work on and off the field have left their mark on other coaches as well.

“Coach Scifres has been very important to me personally and as a coach,” said Indianapolis Chartard coach Vince Lorenzano, whose Trojans have become Roncalli’s biggest rival. “His approach to coaching has always put the players ahead of his own agenda, and this has taught me about what being a selfless coach is.”

‘A faith-based process’

As with others, though, those football compliments give way to something bigger.

“Coach Scifres has been instrumental helping me in approaching life in a faith-based process. He is a friend and a mentor to me, and I have always appreciated his support,” Lorenzano said.

Therein lies the message. After 25 years, Scifres is the dean of southside football coaches, with the titles and trophies as testament to his success.

But life is not only about Friday nights. Certainly, coaching is a special calling for the father of four, but it also is a platform for something more important.

“I’ve always cherished being able to see these guys come back years later with their children,” he said. “To see these guys become good husbands and fathers is very rewarding.”

Toner echoes the sentiment.

“Bruce is a good friend, has coached both of my sons, who each went on to play college football, and is one of the best men I have ever had the occasion to meet and to know. He is a wonderful husband, father and leader of young men; and their lives are better for having played for him while here at Roncalli.”

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