Good Counsel defensive backs coach Reggie Gooch was feeling jittery earlier this week, and not because he’ll be coaching his first game Friday night when the Falcons meet Bishop Gorman (Nev.) in a nationally televised contest in Las Vegas.
Before he could even get to that point, Gooch had to pass through Coach Bob Milloy’s gauntlet of bag checking on Tuesday afternoon. Gooch was nervous. True to his reputation of being obsessively detailed, Milloy had turned the most elementary exercise into a stiff test for each of his assistants: rummage through the 50 navy duffel bags in the offices at the Olney private school, and leave no pad behind.
“It’s crazy that we have to do that now, but we have to,” said Gooch, who played at Good Counsel from 2001 to 2004. “It’s a college atmosphere.”
Milloy has built Good Counsel into a perennial national power, a football factory that is becoming more and more muscular by the season. But for as hard as Milloy and his staff have worked to bring attention to their team, they’ve had to work twice as hard to manage the circus and keep their players grounded. In today’s adapt-or-die high school football landscape, attention to detail has become everything.
Last October, as Good Counsel’s bus was headed to the University of Delaware for a high-profile matchup with Red Lion Christian, an assistant reported to Milloy that their star player, Stefon Diggs, had forgotten to pack his shoulder pads and helmet. Milloy was livid – and after turning the bus around to retrieve the equipment, he vowed to not let it happen again.
“They’re still kids,” said Milloy. “They’re worried about things that are just so unimportant.”
In terms of tradition, not much has changed for Milloy’s team. While a handful of high schools in the Washington area are reveling in the return of Friday night lights this week, Good Counsel is on a business trip out West — playing on national television for the third time in four years.
The Falcons have an 18-game winning streak dating back to October 2010 and have finished No. 1 in The Post’s Top 20 each of the past three seasons. They are nationally ranked in the preseason polls yet again, and are reloaded with blue-chip prospects on both sides of the ball. Clemson recruit Dorian O’Daniel and Virginia Tech commit Kendall Fuller headline a dozen or so players projected to play Division I football next fall, including three that have already orally committed to Virginia.
Milloy remains Maryland’s all-time winningest high school football coach, and at 68, a grandfatherly baggage handler for some of the country’s most visible recruits. In his 12 years at Good Counsel, as his program has gained traction as a national power, he has had to develop ways to shut down prima donna acts on his team.
“Just in case someone gets a big head, or something, he’ll criticize us. Positive criticism to bring it down a notch, whoever it is,” said O’Daniel, one of five Falcons to be named first-team All-Met last fall. “He humbles a lot of players.”
Milloy’s first year in high school coaching was at DeMatha in 1967. In addition to coaching the junior varsity squad, he taught five algebra classes and drove the football bus for $4,700 per year. Over 300 wins later, Milloy throws his kids Under Armour gloves and travel shirts after practice at Good Counsel. Last Friday, after concluding an interview with ESPN, he took 20 minutes out of his schedule to decide what kind of salad his team was going to eat during dinners in Vegas.
He’s had to surround himself with a younger staff to deal with the encroachment of social media on his program, which took a turn for the worse last winter when Diggs, now a freshman wide receiver at Maryland, posted a controversial tweet about then-New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. Milloy doesn’t ban his players from Facebook or Twitter, but he has assistants constantly monitoring and advising the athletes.
“I’m old enough to be some of their parent’s grandparents, so I try to keep a lot of young guys around,” Milloy said. “And the texting, and all that garbage, Twitter, you know, I don’t do that.”
And yet, Milloy doesn’t fight it. He just adapts — and that’s the key, according to Tony Sanchez, Bishop Gorman’s 38-year-old coach. Opening dialogue about everything in a program – recruiters, tweeting, what gear to wear — is what allows older coaches like Milloy to handle the rapid changes in the high school game.
“This thing has grown so big,” said Sanchez, whose Gaels have won the past three Nevada 4A state championships . “The kids can lose themselves in it, and unfortunately it can become almost counterproductive to what you’re trying to do as a team.”
Milloy said that Good Counsel’s team is a “very nice group of kids,” and there were minimal signs of trash talking or lollygagging at a recent practice. His influence can be felt in the public arena as well, where on July 30th, his top- rated recruit Fuller tweeted in preparation for the opening of camp: “No phone, No twitter, No email.”
“The game has definitely changed a lot,” said Milloy, who has no plans to retire in the near future. “But the kids haven’t changed. They still react to discipline.”