Phil Anastasia: Two South Jersey winless football teams and their coaches press on
Derryk Sellers and Steve Duncan will have a lot to talk about before kickoff Friday night.
The football coaches have a lot in common. They are the leaders of Colonial Conference Patriot Division programs that have struggled in recent seasons with low roster numbers and poor win-loss records.
Sellers, in his 12th season at Lindenwold, always sees the sunshine behind the clouds. Duncan, in his second season at Gateway, is learning the value of his colleague's upbeat approach.
"Everybody out here is positive," Duncan said of the Gateway program. "If they weren't positive, they wouldn't be out here. We have terrific youngsters on this football team."
But while most of the focus during the high school football season is on the top teams and the top players - the battle for conference titles and playoff berths, the rush for records - it's worth noting that there's something special about the kids and coaches on less successful teams.
Lindenwold and Gateway are 0-7. They will play Friday in a game that Sellers frames with a typical twist.
"Somebody's '0' must go," Sellers said.
The Lindenwold coach and athletic director isn't sweating the result. He has a young team with a good attitude, and he knows his players would love to walk off the field with a rare victory.
But the years have given him perspective, too.
"This is a great group," Sellers said. "We're hanging in there. We ain't crying. These kids come out to practice every day and work hard. They're having a good time."
Sellers thinks he might have the makings of a good team in the future, although he has felt that way in the past - and the transient nature of Lindenwold's student body has undermined his plans.
This team has a top young quarterback in sophomore Malik Muldrow, the first signal-caller to finish one season and start another for the Lions since 2005.
Freshman running back Chris Randle could be a star, Sellers says. Sophomore Kahleel Pettey has a lot of potential. And juniors such as Troy Petty, Quentin Dootay, and Quasean Henry have been providing leadership for a team with just six seniors.
"We're so young, we should have diapers and Simulac on the sideline," Sellers said.
Duncan has a young team, too. That's typical for struggling programs, as many older players tend to drift away as the losses pile up.
But the Gateway coach has high praise for seniors such as Ed Michaelchuck, Marcus Freas-Papa, Vinny Edmund, and Kyle Reim for holding the team together as the Gators have worked through five quarterbacks because of injuries.
"There's a lot of positives," Duncan said. "These kids come to practice every day and work to get better. They haven't quit."
Sellers doesn't wish an 0-7 start on anybody. But the veteran coach and administrator says there's a lot to be gained in tough times.
"I wish every coach could go through something like this," Sellers said. "You find out why you coach. You realize you're in this to see these young men grow, to help them deal with these situations.
"I'm not complaining. I'm a lucky man. I get to coach football every Friday night."
Never mind the records. Never mind Friday night's result.
Those lights on the big board at the end of the field are just one way to keep score.
Look closer, and you will see that Lindenwold and Gateway are filled with winners.
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @PhilAnastasia.