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Marcus Rivers, Lackawanna trying to take the Next Step

Photo by Shawn Turri

A year after Lackawanna won their first Section VI title since 2008 and made a run to the state semifinal, the Steelers are attempting to get to the next level and reach the state championship game.

Only this time, they’ll have to do it with a new head coach.

Marcus Rivers – who had spent the last several seasons on the Steelers’ coaching staff – has taken over as the team’s head honcho from Adam Tardiff, who stepped down from the post after spending 25 years with the program. While doing so, he’s putting his own twist on the team.

“I’ve been telling the kids that everything is earned and nothing is given,” Rivers said. “What happened last year goes with the 16 seniors that graduated. They will be credited for all of our success last year, and it’s up to these guys to make a statement and leave their legacy.

“I tell kids before every game that what we do on the field is your product. Sell it to the coaches and to whoever wants to come see you, because at the end of the day how you perform will propel you in life. Never settle and never try to be average.”

Rivers knows that having Lackawanna take the next step to get to a state championship game won’t be easy. That’s why he’s focused on the day-to-day process of getting his athletes to improve.

“I don’t want our team to be complacent and not get comfortable,” Rivers said. “It’s basically getting our kids to understand that I will not accept mediocrity and strive for perfection. So it’s just trying to pass along little things that I’ve learned as a player and from all the coaches that had an impact on me.”

A graduate of Lackawanna’s Class of 2007 and a former player at the University at Buffalo, Rivers knows what success on the field looks like. He also, as a member of the Lackawanna community, understands what it takes for members of the Steelers to succeed off the field.

"Our coaching staff is involved in the community, so we know everyone's parents and grandparents and we grew up with everybody,” Rivers said. “Because of that we have a full understanding and a sense of where these kids are coming from and what the needs and wants are that they seek.

“I feel like the passion is there too because this is our school that we went to and we love this place. Granted, a lot of us could have gone elsewhere, but why would you want to coach somewhere else when you’re accustomed to the navy blue and silver?”

Rivers also has experience playing in the NFL. Having spent time with both the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, he’s taken bits and pieces from those two franchises to try and help his roster get better.

“The guys always ask me what the pros were like and I said to them ‘Just watch Hard Knocks and multiply that times four’, unless you’re a first round draft pick or a veteran,” Rivers said. “They expect you to be a machine. There were times where I had to run down a kickoff 15 times in a row at full speed in practice because they expect that if they pay you that much that you should perform. So I'll just try and give them a glimpse of certain things like that.

“We have a conditioning test that I took from the Ravens, and I told the kids about what we had to do to pass it before we could even practice. Our kids wanted to try it, but none passed it, so that was just giving them a sense of what to expect if they ever make it to the pros. It's not going to be easy, that’s for sure.”

Some of those players such as Amir Douglas, Sam Ikegwuono, Jeremy Perez, Rayshawn Handley and Kingston Alexander, have taken those challenges head-on and have led Lackawanna to a 3-0 record. It’s an encouraging start to the season, but Rivers knows that more challenges lie ahead for his guys.

“We need leaders and alpha males, and they’re some of those type of guys,” Rivers said. “A lot of them have taken the step forward that we needed them to do, and that’s a good start.

“I understand that no one wants to fall short like what happened to us last year. Granted, it was considered a successful season. But every team wants to win a state title, and I feel like all the seniors want to go out with a bang. Winning one championship is great in a career because some people never get close, so accomplishing that goal is I think driving our whole team.”

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