Football players learn from the pros

Friday September 28, 2012

Sunday was an intense night in the Bianchi household.

St. Joseph’s football coach Gary Bianchi was cheering for the Patriots while his son, Crusaders quarterback Jon Bianchi, was pulling for Baltimore on Sunday Night Football. By halftime, Jon had to go downstairs.

"As the game got close I went down to the basement and watched by myself," Jon said. "The room started to get heated."

It turns out this father and son pair doesn’t just get excited about football on Friday nights. Jon said he’s been watching football -- college, high school or NFL -- as long as he can remember. His father said that kind of addiction to the sport only makes smarter football players.

"I always tell my kids to sit and watch some football on Saturdays or Sundays," Gary Bianchi said. "As long as they’re watching the game the right way, they pick up things. My father told me don’t watch the ball, watch the position you’re playing and you pick up good habits."

Berkshire County’s high school coaches are mixed on what impact -- if any -- soaking up football on the weekends can have on their players. Mount Greylock coach Shawn Flaherty said those kind of football junkies are either in the minority or evenly split with players who don’t watch much football in their free time.

Flaherty himself doesn’t start enjoying football as a fan until after high school football ends. When you’ve won back-to-back Super Bowls like the Mounties, that means early December.

"I think I’m truly diseased that I don’t get to watch a game as a fan," he said. "If I’m watching college, I’m watching for new plays or different sets. I find myself scouting Division I games, just doing mental notes. It isn’t just enjoying it for the sake of the game."

Flaherty’s quarterback, Hank Barrett, said he watches the NFL, in part because he’s been playing fantasy football for years. While Barrett has a favorite team (New England), he said he can find himself playing analyst like his coach from time-to-time. He listens closely to the commentators, paying attention to how they diagram plays.

"It makes me realize I can always break it down a step farther and know what I can be doing better on every single play," Barrett said. "I think that does help me, seeing all these athletes go out there. I try to take notice of what they’re doing."

Lee coach Keith Thomson, who got familiar with Barrett and the Mounties last year in a Western Mass. Super Bowl loss, said he doesn’t think being a big fan of the college or professional game makes a difference on Fridays. He did say players who are big into football tend to make better players.

Even more important than watching for Flaherty is going out and playing pickup games in the street or backyard. It’s something Gary Campbell Jr. is starting to see in his return to the Berkshires. He said he had to drag his own son in at dark the other night from a game in the neighborhood. It reminded him of his days growing up.

"I watched [Joe] Montana, Dan Marino growing up," Campbell said. "I really loved going out there and trying to do what they did. I went out in the street in our neighborhood. We had a football game going on all the time."

Campbell said it’s important for players to pick up a passion for the game from watching as much as technical pointers. Jon Bianchi -- when he’s not cheering against his father over a game -- tries to soak up both.

"The college game, I love the excitement and all the upsets and the hunger of the players," Jon said. "With the NFL, I love watching the talent. I follow my favorite players. I try to mimic the stuff they do."

To reach Christopher James:,
or (413) 496-6252.
On Twitter: @BECJ2K


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