Anacostia football Coach Willie Stewart rarely has a cross word for anyone and almost never loses his cool. But after watching his team blow a 12-0 lead and lose to Coolidge, 18-12, in overtime five weeks ago, Stewart's demeanor changed.
"Interhigh teams, as a rule, don't usually score many points, so when you lead 12-0, you are supposed to win," said Stewart, in his 10th year of coaching, his fifth at Anacostia. "If a Virginia or Metro school had caught us, I might have forgiven that. But an Interhigh school? No way!"
Of the 11 Interhigh schools, only Coolidge is averaging at least 16 points per game. Stewart was so upset he immediately instituted what he called a "boot camp" for his players -- more exercises, sprints and a return to basic plays. Some players talked of quitting.
"I encouraged them to quit. If I was losing with them, I surely could lose without them," Stewart said. "We had won two straight Interhigh championships and maybe we had become too complacent. These guys started thinking all Anacostia had to do was show up and we would win. That's not so. We have to work to win games and I wanted to impress that fact upon them."
He did. Stewart's measures showed dividends immediately. In fact, Stewart was so pleased he abandoned his boot camp and things are back to normal in Southeast Washington.
"I think I got their attention," he said. "I turned into a madman. Coolidge came in here and busted our bubble. Coolidge is a good team and I wasn't that disappointed in losing to them. But I wanted the kids to know I wasn't pleased with the efforts they had been putting out. We haven't lost as many as three games in any one season in four years. I wanted them to know I didn't like the way they were playing."
Since that loss, the Indians (6-3) have won four straight games impressively, including a 14-7 victory over H.D. Woodson. Stewart said the Woodson victory was the finest game his team has played this season.
"Woodson had only one first down and did not, I repeat, did not complete a pass," Stewart said. "I enjoyed watching those films. The kids really played well and did everything we expected of them. We watched the films of the McKinley-Woodson game (McKinley won, 7-6) and saw the way the McKinley backs ran right at Woodson. Our kids saw that and weren't intimidated anymore by all the size Woodson has."
This season Stewart faced a problem he hadn't had in his 15 years as an assistant or head coach. "We didn't have any more Chesleys around (seven brothers who played football under Stewart at Eastern and Anacostia) and had to find some new leadership. Over the years, everyone followed their example, and they always came up with big plays for us."
Stewart said some players have begun to provide that necessary leadership, notably quarterback Albert Purvis (11 touchdown passes), end Mark Jackson (five touchdown catches), linebacker Everett Lampkin, tackle Robert Person (10 sacks) and safety Rick Manago (four interceptions).
Stewart felt all along he had the nucleus of a good team. Seventeen returning starters, including Purvis and Jackson, enabled Stewart to maintain his reputation as a passing coach.
"We're about where I thought we'd be. But I expected to be chasing Woodson (2-2 in the division) instead of it being the other way around," Stewart said. "I know what it feels like to be chasing the leader and praying for upsets each week. Your nerves get frayed pretty easily."
The big win over Woodson and last week's victory over Eastern gave Anacostia a 4-1 division mark with one game remaining against Ballou. Should Anacostia win a third straight division title and a trip to RFK Stadium, it could earn a line in the history books.
"We could be the first team to win three straight Interhigh championships since Bell did it (1964-66)," Stewart said. "That's what we are shooting for. That's why I had to get tough. This is a big opportunity for Anacostia and we're too close to blow it now."