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Dilfer: "Football Challenges You to Adopt Principles that Are Going to Help You in Life"

By Taken from play, 05/18/21, 10:30AM PDT


Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

As a kid, Trent Dilfer played all the sports his mom could sign him up for. 

"My mother’s philosophy for me was to try everything and then find my groove," Dilfer said.

So there was young Trent playing football, baseball, basketball, track and field, golf — even some time on a swim team. But it didn’t take too long to figure out football was his sport.

"There is the culture of sport, and there is the culture of football," Dilfer said. "Football is unique because it’s hard. It’s the hardest of all sports. It’s the hardest physically. It’s the hardest mentally. It impacts the most amount of people on the field at one time, the most amount of people on a team. There’s more social dynamics in football than in others sports.

"The culture of football is really good for young people, because of the structure, accountability, selflessness, the grit, determination, perseverance, whichever of those terms you like best. They all are cultivated in a football setting more so than other sports."

Dilfer grew up and thrived in that culture. He started out playing flag football in his hometown of Aptos, in Santa Cruz County in northern California. Eventually he moved to tackle, starring at Aptos High School and then at Fresno State University. 

In the 1994 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Dilfer with the sixth overall pick. He played 14 years in the NFL with five different teams, highlighted by his Super Bowl XXXV win as the starting QB for the Baltimore Ravens. 

After Dilfer's playing days ended, he has become an ambassador for the sport. Dilfer worked as an analyst for the NFL Network, ESPN and Fox for over a decade. 

And in 2019, Dilfer left the studio to become the head coach of Lipscomb Academy in Nashville. A high school that won three games in the three years prior to Dilfer's arrival, Lipscomb went to the state semifinals in Dilfer's first season and played for the Division II Class AA State Championship in 2020, losing 35-28 in the title game to Christ Presbyterian Academy.

Yes, football has been good to Dilfer, and Dilfer has been good for football. As a head coach, he shares his philosophy on the game that shaped his life with his players. 

“My general view is that football challenges you to adopt principles that are going to help you in life," Dilfer said.

"We have a great running back here (at Lipscomb). And he can do things to make up for mistakes. But over the course of 48 minutes of a high school game, no matter how great a player is, he is still dependent on the other 10 players on his side of the ball for ultimate success."

"You learn that at a young age. No matter how much of a big, bad dude I am, I’m still dependent on everyone else. That’s why you have these epic moments in football team building where everyone is in it together, lifting weights, pushing a sled, short-yardage drills, no matter what it is. And they all understand if we’re all not good, I’m not going to be good."

At Lipscomb, Dilfer's message has taken hold. The team has grown from just 38 players when he arrived to over 100 in his two years at the helm.

"My biggest (message) is pursue your potential,’’ Dilfer said. “Relentlessly pursue your potential. That’s where I see the gap in youth sports. Kids get caught up in comparison, instead of daily pursuing their potential and letting the chips fail where they may. (Once) you get kids buying into that, it’s all good."

Photo: AP/Allen Kee

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