Hudl Champions: Gabe Infante on Avoiding Complacency

St. Joseph’s continues to run over the opposition, avoiding the overconfidence that plagues some successful teams. The coach of the Pennsylvania champs explains how.

Hudl Champions: Gabe Infante on Avoiding Complacency

St. Joseph’s continues to run over the opposition, avoiding the overconfidence that plagues some successful teams. The coach of the Pennsylvania champs explains how.

We like to highlight the best of the best, and that’s our goal with the Hudl Champions series. We want to tap state champion coaches and gain insights that can help others get an edge on Friday nights.

Coach: Gabe Infante, St. Joseph’s Prep

State: Pennsylvania

Record: 14-0 (6A Division)

Championship score: St. Joseph’s 42, Pittsburgh Central Catholic 7

On Dec. 10, St. Joseph’s Prep ran through Central Catholic 42-7 to claim the Pennsylvania 6A championship. The title, St. Joseph’s third in four years, culminated an undefeated season that saw the Hawks win by an average of 24.6 points per game.

With so many blowouts on the schedule and prizes in the trophy case, it would be easy for the players to get big heads , read their press clippings and tune out the coach. When a team dominates at that level, it’s natural to lose a bit of that fire, to ease up on the gas just a bit.

Yet the opposite happened, as St. Joseph’s margin of victory actually grew in its four playoff games. Outside of a 35-25 fourth-quarter comeback over North Penn in the semifinals, SJP won every postseason game by at least three touchdowns.

How did coach Gabe Infante keep his squad on track?

“You start by not characterizing our victories as rolling over people,” Infante said. “I know that’s what it appears to some people, but those are hard-fought contests. We talk about never using the scoreboard as a litmus test for our performance. We’re very performance-driven and we’re not results-oriented. We don’t look at scores in our evaluation process or our self-reflection. Scores tend to be very misleading.”

That’s an easy message to say, but how often do thoughts like that go in one athlete’s ear and out the other? It’s one thing for a grown man with thousands of hours of coaching experience to believe that sentiment, but a 17-year-old player hasn’t developed that same maturity and perspective.

Yet the Hawks believe the mantra. They trust Infante because he’s sincere with them, and he’s not afraid to address tough issues when they arise.

“We’re probably the first time a kid hears that he’s not good enough,” Infante said. “We’re the first time that a parent hears that their son isn’t good enough. We get put in some very difficult positions where we need to be the first dose of reality and honesty to a player. How you deliver that and how you handle your players and how you develop respect and trust with your players is where it all starts.

“Everything boils down to your relationship with your players. How do you treat your players, and do you really care about them? And not just about them as football players, but as people? Do you care about them academically or, in my case, spiritually? Are you helping them become the best men they can possibly be?”

Infante readily admits that St. Joseph’s doesn’t have the most talent. He contends that most of his players are Division III prospects, not top-tier recruits. But the school has ascended to new heights as the Hawks have embraced Infante’s leadership style, emulating it to the point that they can handle themselves.

“Player-led teams will always beat a coach-led team,” Infante said. “A coach’s job, in my opinion, is very much the same as that of a parent - to prepare your children to live life without you.

“I’ve never coached a team that won at the end that didn’t have great leadership, where those guys didn’t hold each other accountable. Those guys weren’t playing for me. They weren’t playing for their school. They were playing for each other. Coaches miss that sometimes. That’s a really, really important ingredient to having successful teams.”

Previous Hudl Champions

Jason Negro, St. John Bosco (Calif.)

Todd Peterman, DeSoto High (Texas)

Michael Huffman, Bellevue West (Neb.)

Kirk Fridrich, Union High (Okla.)

Steve Specht, St. Xavier (Ohio)

Josh Niblett, Hoover High (Ala.)

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