by Todd Black // Louisiana Prep Scoreboard – ESPN 104.5 Baton Rouge
Photo credit: Brad Messina Photography
“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, and others make it happen.”
“Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.”
Both of these quotes are from one of the best basketball players to ever play the game; Jordan also won 6 championships that included a lot of different teammates and a lot of different personalities. Jordan is recognized for his basketball skills, but his skills as a leader may have been even a better leader. An article I was reading in “Leaders of Evolution” offers 10 important qualities of a sports leader. They are:
Last Friday I went to the quarterfinal match-up between the Catholic High Bears and the Rummel Raiders. Catholic found themselves trailing 21-7 with 2:45 remaining until halftime, facing a 3rd & 4. Since Catholic received the opening kickoff of the game, Rummel will be on offense to start the 3rd Quarter. There would be a lot of time left in the game and still anything could happen but for all intents and purposes, this was a huge play upcoming for the Catholic offense. Senior George Hart III was in at Wildcat Quarterback, faked the handoff to the left side, found a hole on the right side of the Rummel defense, and goes 42 yards to set up Catholic 1st & 10 inside the Raider 20 yard line. This was Hart’s 2nd huge run in the first half; coming at times when the Bears offense needed a spark. The Bears offense scored 3 plays later to close Rummel’s lead to 21-14 at the half.
To be transparent, I can only stay for the 1st half of Friday Night games so I can get back to the studio to prepare for Louisiana Prep Scoreboard. But the trip from Memorial to Government is not that far. By the time I had gotten back to Guaranty Broadcasting, the Bears had tied the score 21-21. On Rummel’s 2nd play from scrimmage in the 2nd half, Michael Cerniauskas picked off Rummel’s quarterback and returned the interception to the Rummel 10 yard line. The Bear offense capitalized on the turnover to tie the game at 21.
In game time, at the 2:45 mark of the 2nd Quarter, the Bears offense faced a crucial 3rd down; at the 9:57 mark of the 3rd Quarter, the game is now tied. How can a game ‘turn on a dime?’ Is it a coincidence? Is it luck? I’ll give you my two cents, but more importantly, I will share an opinion that cannot be or better not be, questioned by anyone!!
Friday nights roll fast for me; I don’t have very much time to put any thought into what I just saw. On Saturday, I was going through my Twitter feed and saw a tweet by Michael Cerniauskas with attached highlights. While I was watching his highlights, I remembered hearing Cerniauskas on two different occasions addressing his defensive teammates saying, “we are ok, keep your head up, keep fighting.” The first time was after Rummel drove 85 yards on 15 plays to go up 7-0. The other is when Rummel went up 21-7. Both times I happened to be standing behind the endzone. I remember at the time thinking, “that’s impressive.”
Coach Fertitta told me that his mom and dad come to every game. Earlier in the year after they had attended the Karr game, Coach Fertitta’s mom made the comment, “I couldn’t stop watching #26 on the sidelines. I don’t know who that young man is, but he was injured and wasn’t playing; he was all over the place encouraging his teammates. He never let up the entire game.” That really tells you everything you need to know about Michael Cerniauskas. Michael is not afraid to put himself out there. According to Coach Fertitta, Cerniauskas was influenced a lot by 2019 graduate, Connor Finucane who is continuing his football career at Army. Finucane had asked Coach Fertitta if, before the Rummel game, would he share a letter to the team he had written.
From my perspective, I think it is rare you see a strong team, in any sport, without a strong leader (s). The play George Hart III made in the 2nd Quarter had a lot of grit, determination, and toughness included in that 42 yards but according to Coach Gabe Fertitta, George “is a tireless, tireless worker.” In 2019, Hart shared time in the backfield, when I asked how Hart handles sharing time in the backfield again in 2020, Coach Fertitta said “George will do whatever we say is what we need to do to win the game; he is very unselfish.” Fertitta continues, “what makes George a great leader for us at Catholic? George, who among a team at Catholic who I could tell you, 30 guys whose work ethic is just ungodly, George’s work ethic stands out even above them.”
Coach Fertitta and I discussed the different types of leaders and how Cerniauskas and Hart fit those molds. “George is more of a quiet, lead by example type of leader, which is perfect for the offense. Michael is more vocal, loud and will say what’s on his mind which is perfect for the defense.” Leadership has so many variables but if you are going to “talk the talk, you better walk the walk.” Coach and I agreed on the type of leader that no one respects is the hypocritical leader. This is the guy who is quick to point out other people’s flaws but is not willing to take care of his own.
As coaches, one thing we know for sure is a leader cannot be coached. We know from the outset if we have a team without a leader, we have a ship without a captain. So, I asked Coach Fertitta the million-dollar question, how do leaders emerge? “These two guys had the propensity for leadership long before they came to Catholic because of their parents. That is a key component to why these guys are so dynamic in their leadership; because you have unbelievable parents to raise them to be that way. Parenting puts them on the track for leadership. It doesn’t guarantee it, but without it (parenting), being a leader is pretty hard to accomplish.” George is the son of George and Aricka Hart. Michael is the son of Chris and Barb Cerniauskas.
“Getting a 16, 17, or 18-year old to step out on that level is tough. So, when it happens, it is critical the school culture and team culture protect those players from being ridiculed and making fun of. If a young person does not feel protected from being ridiculed, then they are never going to step outside their bubble,” added Fertitta.
In the letter Connor Finucane asked Coach Fertitta to read, Conner asked
Do you love your brother enough to hold him accountable when it’s not cool?
Do you love your brother enough to choose the harder right than the easier wrong?
We always say, ‘high school sports teach life lessons.’ This is the perfect example. When would we ever discuss “choosing the harder right than the easier wrong?” if not for high school athletics but yes this is a decision that is almost made on a daily basis by everyone. Leading at 17 or 18 years old is not easy, but for those that do, be proud for putting yourself out there. I don’t know what your long term future is in athletics, but if you gain nothing else from this point forward, know you have given to high school football as it has given to you.