Remembering Coach Dave

Coach Dave and I during a timeout at Lewis University.

A little backstory on me: By the age of 5, I had a knack for computing numbers well beyond my years: To this day, I remember the look on Mrs. Moran’s face when I walked up to her on the second day of first grade and proceeded to show her I completed all the problems from the entire book. It was more “what the hell do I give this kid to do the rest of the year” than impressed. Point being, from that age leading up to college, everyone had told me that I was going to do something big in the mathematical field.

Once I got to college and realized calculus needed far more than my natural ability to computer numbers, I found myself for the first time ever wondering “what am I going to do with my life?” A few years later, I found myself going to community college part-time and working full-time for a prepaid wireless company. I was salaried for 26k a year with full benefits, which after working part-time for all my life felt like a lot of money (it isn't). I was working towards my associate’s degree, but truth be told, I had gotten no further in figuring out what my goals were. There wasn’t a lot of drive, and I was pretty much going through the motions.

Enter Coach Dave.

In the early 2000’s, social media was just starting to get off the ground. Due to this, the NCAA had not started putting restrictions on recruiting through the use of social media. So when I posted a 2 ½ minute video of some clips from playing USAV BB ball on my Myspace profile, Coach Dave reached out asking if I’d be interested in playing for him at Newbury.

How many people can say they found their college through Myspace? I laugh at the absurdity of it every time it crosses my mind.

When I first told my dad about Newbury, he was concerned about the debt and was concerned I was only focused on volleyball. I remember the turning point for him being when Dave talked about the standard which his athletes were held. His minimum GPA was well above the school’s requirement, he had weekly meetings with each individual player to discuss how classes were going, and that he knew it was important that we excelled off the court as much as we excelled on it. He would push us to be the absolute best we could be.

Over the next few years, that’s exactly what Dave did. I would come into his office and tell him about a B I got and he’d challenge me on why I didn’t get an A. He pushed me to settle for nothing less than my best every day – and he’d rip me a new one if I didn’t give it.

One specific memory comes to mind from practice. He came in all excited to do a drill he called the UCLA drill. The idea was you put your 6 players in serve receive, and someone on the other side would hit an aggressive serve. The moment we put the ball back over, we had to rotate and receive another serve. We were supposed to do this over and over again.

The drill was pure chaos. Pass-set-hit, then everyone trying to get back to serve receive in the new position, figure out who was running what, all while the next serve was flying at you with no patience if you weren’t ready. By the 3rd rep, everyone was out of order and no one knew who was where anymore. It was an absolute disaster.

I had just finished on the serve-receive side and was with the servers. Dave was upset that the drill didn’t go as planned, and after I missed a jump serve he grilled me about something. I remember turning around and muttering something loud enough so he could hear it, and he went off on me.

Dave didn’t know the X’s and O’s that well, but the man had a sixth sense for the moment I’d lose focus. My players have heard me talk about “controlling the controllables” – Dave was the master of knowing the moment I became distracted from that, and made sure to let me know that it wasn’t an option. I can’t tell you much about what he taught me from a volleyball perspective, but Dave was probably the first coach that really knew how to get the absolute best effort out of me. I don’t know where I’d be without him, but I can tell you it wouldn’t be as good as it is now.

Above everything else, Dave cared about me as a person. It was evident in every conversation we had. We talked a lot about volleyball, but our conversations transcended the player-coach role. If I had a problem, Dave was there to help. If I found something that interested me, Dave was excited to talk about it with me. There’s a phrase about players willing to run through brick walls for their coaches – there’s no big secret or talent to being the type of coach that gets that fire from their players: You just have to show your players you care.

Dave cared. I would have ran into that wall for him, and I’ll always be appreciative of everything he did for me.

9 years ago today, he was camping with some friends and in a freak accident drowned in a river. He was only 29. Writing this at the age of 32, I find that in death he taught the same lesson that he taught me in life: Don’t take your time here for granted.

I will always be upset about what happened to Dave, but while he was taken from us too soon, the impact he left on me will stay with me for the rest of my days – and I like to think that I can be an echo of his voice for all the lives I had the opportunity to coach. Every time I get to work with athletes and teach them the things he taught me, I can’t help but feel like he’s still here. He may not be present in the flesh, but his legacy will live on long after he’s gone.

Rest in Peace Coach. Thanks for everything.