New Hampshire Football Report

Going Big Time

Rich Alercio

Make the “Big Time” Where You Are.

Last week I began a conversation with you about making your program “The Big Time” for you, your players, your school, and your community… Some approaches are external, some internal, and some combine an outward facing symbol to help cultivate an internal change in team identity.

Few of us enjoy the bright lights or big budgets that seem to go hand in hand with an ESPN SportsCenter highlight reel. Big stadiums, celebrity coaches, and marquis branding seem to dominate the highest levels of collegiate and professional athletics. One of the hottest trends in Big Time college football is the changing of helmet color and design.  Programs seem to have a different helmet or uniform every week, and players project images or identity with little care or concern over the costs of such a metamorphosis.  While most high schools and small colleges may not be able to change every week, they can change every year at little or no additional cost. There are ways to emulate the “Big Time,” without the big budget.

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When I arrived at St Johnsbury Academy in the summer of 2013, the team had endured seven consecutive losing seasons.  The eighth, my first, was no different.  We made the playoffs but suffered a quick exit.  During all eight of those losing seasons, the team wore silver helmets with a grey face mask, green logo and green stripe.  Heading in to the 2014 season, the program needed a change; an outward expression of evolution and improvement.

One of the first, and most noticeable of several program changes that year was our helmets.  As a relatively small school in northern Vermont, we did not have the budget to make big changes. The same creative problem solving we emphasize on the field for our players would have to become the basis for what initially appeared to be an insurmountable fiscal challenge. Working closely with our reconditioning partner, Stadium Systems, we explained our intent, conveying both the importance of the change, and the reality of our limited resources.

We knew the helmet reconditioning process includes repainting every year and seized the opportunity to paint our helmets a new color.  Similarly, we order new logos each year, so instead of ordering green, we chose white. Although we could not afford to have our face masks dipped to change color, Stadium Systems worked with other clients and arranged a swap with a school who had white facemasks looking to go to grey.  Trading our facemasks for theirs, we found a “win/win solution” with no cost to either school!  The only additional cost was the painting of helmets not used the previous season in need of recertification, but that nominal expense was well worth it.

Beginning with their new look, our kids felt “Big Time” entering the 2014 season. They knew opponents would first see, and subsequently feel the change in our identity upon first contact. With our new found confidence, the Hilltoppers played like a “Big Time” program, going 10-1, and earning the school’s first trip to the state championship in 20 years.

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Rich Alercio is the head coach at St. Johnsbury (Vt.) Academy. You can read more about his coaching philosophy at He can be reached at

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