By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
Football is often referred to as a game of land acquisition by the more studious of fans.
In his first season as the Lakeside coach, Frank Hall is trying to help his Dragons conquer a few mountains on the way to building his program. He might be compared to an explorer leading a band of marauders in trying to conquer a new world.
Though, at times, he is exactly what he appears to be — a big man who loves football and loves coaching the young Dragons. He is the family man who takes a moment in the locker before kickoff Friday night with visiting rival Jefferson to hug his son.
He is the man with his feet up on a desk telling stories of the fieldhouse at old Wenner Field. He is the son whose mom drops his coat off at the locker room.
He is a motivator and leader of young men.
And he is all of those people at once, even with his first home game less than 30 minutes from starting.
With few people not connected with either the Falcons or Dragons teams inside Lakeside Stadium, Hall greets visitors in the south end zone with a smile and handshake as his backs and receivers stretch.
As the quarterbacks begin to loosen their arms and receivers begin running routes, he is quick to shout instructions, encouragement or constructive criticism.
“Catch the ball, son!” he hollers at one point. “Squeeze that ball.”
He continues with that mantra throughout the drill.
As a few linemen poke their heads out of the locker room, Hall turns and waves for them to take the field, then blows his whistle, calling for the backs and receivers to take the end zone.
“Good effort, fellas!” he shouts. “The best effort wins. It’s a great day, fellas. Effort, effort, effort!”
As he breaks them down, it’s easy to see he’s a little bit excited.
“Let’s go! Let’s go. Let’s go!”
That mood begins working its way through the Dragons, too.
“The first home game... this is huge,” Deonte Rodgers says to Hall.
By then, a small band of students had congregated in the stands and began an enthusiastic show of support.
“That loudens the crowd every time,” Malik Carlton said to teammate Johnny Evans, a bit of emotion behind the sentiment.
“It’s a new season, boys!” Carlton shouts to any and all of the teammates who are listening.
As the Dragons run some basics of the offense and defense, Hall is approached by trainer Lauren Gloekler and a few others in quick succession. Each are relaying a message from the sideline, all, apparently, from the same person.
“Some things never change,” he cracks.
Later, the mystery reveals itself as he finds a jacket on the desk in his coaches’ office.
“My mom sent three messages that my coat was in the office,” he laughs as he engages his coaching staff.
As he is about to enter his office, Hall crosses paths with his son, Christian. They exchange a hug and Hall tells the boy he loves him.
Hall is clearly relaxed, though kickoff is 15 minutes away. He sits in his chair at the desk in the center of the office, a Harbor helmet perched on the corner, right next to where he has put his feet up.
“You guys ever been in the old Harbor fieldhouse at Wenner?” he asks. “It was an office like this. There was a toilet right here, right in the middle, like this.”
“Jay Corlew had that thing removed right away,” assistant coach Tyler Wilber piped in.
“Guys would be sitting on the toilet and we’d be carrying on a conversation like nothing was wrong with it,” Hall said.
“That’s why Jay had it taken out. You don’t want guys coming in and going to the bathroom while you’re trying to have a coaches’ meeting,” Wilber said.
The group enjoyed a good laugh at all the possibilities.
Then, Hall is up out of the chair, all business again. It’s showtime.
His message to the Dragons for their final pregame instructions in the locker room is short and sweet, before he sends them to the field.
“Let’s talk about a few things that are important,” he says. “Family is important. School is important. This... being a football player, is an honor and a privilege. A lot of people don’t have the gumption to do it. They don’t want to be out in the August heat for two-a-days. They don’t want to work. How do we win? Effort.
“Cortez wanted to conquer a new world. How did he do it? Effort. He burned his ships at the beach. He told his men the only way they were leaving was if the won.”
At this, Hall’s tone and volume rose.
“Burn the ships, boys! The only way to win is effort!”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him firstname.lastname@example.org.