Dukes demonstrate a culture change

Published 2:56 pm Friday, November 3, 2023

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The Windsor High School varsity football team’s 2023 season came to a close Friday, Oct. 27, with a definitive home loss, but the fact that the Dukes fought to the end across a complete regular-season schedule this year was evidence of a positive culture change for the program.

Benjamin DuBois reflected on his first season as Windsor’s head coach.

“I think the thing that sticks out to me the most is not just trying to coach football but trying to change the culture and the whole thing,” he said.

He underscored his excitement at watching members of the team start to buy into what he and his coaching staff were trying to create.

The 2023 Dukes finished with an overall record of 2-8, earning the program’s first victories since the 2019 season.

Windsor entered its last two games of the regular season with a Region 2A playoff berth in sight, but it was not able to win out. 

Injuries, a small roster and young players lacking experience were key factors in the Dukes’ 42-7 road loss to Greensville County High School on Oct. 20 and their 49-0 home loss to Southampton High School on Oct. 27.

Despite the challenges his team faced the past two weeks, DuBois said, “We should have still been a little bit better in my eyesight,” but he noted that it was a growing experience.

Windsor had been sorely missing the services of senior Zachary Gilmore on the offensive and defensive lines due to an injury, and though he made an appearance against Southampton, the injury still had a notable impact on his performance.

“He tried to come back a little bit, but he didn’t last that whole time,” DuBois said. “We had to limit how many times he played, because he kept coming up limping.”

What was left in the absence of any of the team’s eight seniors was largely a group of hardworking but smaller and less experienced underclassmen.

“We’re a really, really, really young team, mostly freshmen and sophomores, so as the years go on, if we can hold this group together, we’ll get a whole lot better,” DuBois said.

The coach indicated that earlier in the season, the team lost some players because they did not want to buy into the culture that he and his staff were trying to establish.

“But the ones that stayed, just watching them fight through everything and never quit … this is the first time in I think two to four years, somewhere in that range, that we’ve actually finished a complete season,” he said. “So just watching that and them coming together, and even as the season got a little rough or injuries and all that stuff like that, they never stopped coming to practice, they never stopped fighting to stay in games.”

The Dukes played a full regular-season schedule of 10 games in 2019, none in 2020 due to COVID-19, eight in the fall of 2021 and eight in 2022.

As for why play in the two most recent seasons was abbreviated, DuBois said he could speak only for the 2022 campaign when he joined the coaching staff as an offensive coordinator.

He indicated that collectively, more than one reason contributed to games not being played, but the reason for why the Dukes did not play their regular-season finale “was I guess they gave up on the season. It was only a few kids that showed up for the last week of practice, so we ended up forfeiting for that reason.

“So like I said, just watching them this year, they were determined not to let that happen — the seniors, and then the underclassmen supported what they were trying to do,” he said. “You could see there’s a difference.”

He noted that his coaches and WHS administrators told him they could see the difference.

“We’ve got some kids that are up for nominations for all-district and all-region, but (the difference is) the thing that sticks out to me the most,” he said.

The eight seniors who have now played their final game in a Windsor football uniform include Travion Bobb, Gilmore, Ja’veon Holloman, Jamari King, Aiden Micciche, Criss Mosley, Crishon Smith and Demond Smith.

Part of building the Windsor High School football program into a successful one is introducing Windsor youths to the organized version of the game at an earlier age.

“Kids in Windsor, they don’t have football,” DuBois said. “Most kids don’t play organized football until they get to the eighth grade. So the majority of the players that came to the high school this year to play (junior varsity) and some of the high schoolers that came out this year, this is the first time they’ve ever played organized football.”

DuBois is arranging an earlier introduction with organized football through his work with a middle school football team.

“We’ve got about 12 middle schoolers that are on the team right now, so if we can hold those 12 together and come back with 12 or over for next year, we can start building this program like it should be built,” he said.

And though the varsity season is over, seniors players are continuing to aid in the program construction work. DuBois said some of them were helping to coach at the JV game on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

“They’re excited about that,” he said, adding that they were also excited to stand up in front of the eighth graders and share their stories and histories with the game.

Next up for the varsity team is offseason training.

DuBois said that starting the week after Thanksgiving, training will involve two days a week in the weight room and an hour on the field for conditioning. By January, this will increase to three days a week.

This past year, DuBois was hired as the head coach in March, and offseason work under his leadership did not get started until April.

“So now we have a chance to actually have a real offseason,” he said.

Instilling structure, discipline and accountability in players across all the different age levels and trying to keep everybody together has been what DuBois described as an “up-and-down experience emotionally.”

“But I’m excited about the future,” he added.