Stallions gear up to tackle 2019

The Sierra High School defensive line practices tackling drills in July. [Express photo/Lily Reavis]

Ersery begins second year at Sierra with discipline and consistency

By LILY REAVIS
The Southeast Express

 Sierra High School’s weight room is, upon first glance, exactly what one would expect. Motivational quotes line the cardinal and gold walls, painted in the school’s colors. Weight racks and machines surround the perimeter, circling the thick, foldable mats that sit in the middle. The air smells of sweat and cleaning solution, and the clang of weights hitting the floor easily echoes off the cinder block walls. 

On first glance, Sierra’s weight room is exactly the same as every other high school’s. But then you take a second look.

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right,” is painted in bold capital letters directly in front of the bench presses. 

“Everything you need is already inside of you,” stares back at the athletes as they hold planks on mats in the middle of the room.

Beside the door is a large sign that reads, “Burn The Ships WE CAME TO CONQUER.” At the beginning and end of every practice, each player taps the sign, signaling their “clock in” and “clock out” of the weight room.

The quotes were chosen by head coach Draye Ersery and they each reflect his core values. The upcoming season will be only Ersery’s second at Sierra, but the team has undergone a massive transformation since he was hired in 2017.

“Two years ago, we were able to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted,” said senior Elijah Smith. “But since [Ersery] came in, it’s been a new culture.”

The Sierra football team no longer believes in giving up. According to Ersery, the ancient Vikings would burn their own ships after docking in each new land they planned to conquer, purposefully removing their option to flee. The Stallions have embraced this ideology, refusing to quit no matter what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. 

“We’re not running away, we’re not turning back,” Ersery said. “We’re getting out there, we’re fighting hard and we’re conquering the field.”

For the first time in the school’s history, that field will be at home. Sierra is planning to host its own football games this season, playing on the school’s existing turf rather than traveling to the district stadium at Harrison High School, where its games have been played for the past 35 years. 

Sierra Athletic Director Robert “Bob” Bentley said: “[Hosting games] is going to be a large undertaking that we are committed to doing this year, and any assistance that the community or community partners can provide will be invaluable.”

Bentley believes that the change will generate school and community spirit. Football games are a crucial part of American high school life, and he is excited to be able to provide Sierra’s students with the experience of attending Homecoming and other match-ups on their own turf.

Although the district has occasionally supplied Sierra with spirit buses for students to travel to Harrison, their budget did not allow for students to attend each game. Bentley also pointed out that the rivalry between Sierra and Harrison affected crowd outcomes, as many students simply didn’t want to travel to Harrison.

Ersery wants team members to keep the pride of playing at home in their minds, so they are practicing on the field all summer long.

Every weekday at 5 p.m., the weight room fills with about 20 players and five coaches.

There is not a single quiet moment during these summer practices. The coaches all yell over one another while the players focus on their workouts.

“Don’t cheat yourself.”

“Hold it.”

“Get your feet up.”

“Breathe.”

“It’s all mental, fellas.”

For the hour during which the team works on strength, and it is impossible to distinguish which coach is yelling what. 

At the end of their time in the weight room, the team “claps it out,” applauding the hard work as a team, before hustling to the field for its cardio workout. 

On their way out, each player makes sure to tap the “Burn The Ships” sign. 

This hand-painted sign hangs at the entrance to the Sierra High School weight room, reminding the Stallion football team of its renewed commitment to finishing all its games strong.

 

Accountability king

Ersery expects every team member to show up to summer practice and give each session their all. 

“You can get out of a workout with an excuse, and you’re free for that day,” he said. “But you lost the reason why we’re here, now we have to reteach you. Now we have to slow down. Now we’re putting ourselves at a disadvantage against an opponent we know we can beat, all because one person decided that they were gonna be inconsistent.”

His emphasis on consistency defines Ersery’s coaching. A Sierra football alumnus himself, he values discipline and encourages commitment within the team. 

“Football is about discipline,” Ersery said. “It’s about working together as a unit, and most importantly, it’s about being accountable to each other. And we didn’t have that [when I played at Sierra], so I found it necessary to come back.” 

He added, “I care about this school,” while pointing out his own athletics banner, commemorating a 2005 Track & Field League Championship, which hangs in the same gym where he now conducts practices. Ersery, who graduated in ’05, was a three-sport athlete for the Stallions; in addition to football and track, he played basketball, according to his biography on the Colorado High School Athletic Association. 

He got his coaching start during the 2011-12 year at Golden Gate High School in Naples, Florida, before spending the 2013 season as varsity running back and linebacker coach for Naples’ Lely High School. In 2016, Ersery came back to Colorado Springs and volunteered as a coach at Skyview Middle School, according to a Sierra press release announcing his hire. 

According to Ersery, Sierra’s football team has always had the skills and character to be successful, but lacked serious coaches and the drive to finish games with gusto. Because of that, one of the team’s main focuses during the upcoming season will be to play consistently throughout the entire game. 

Of his own time on Sierra’s football team, Ersery said: “We had a disservice when it came to coaching. We just had a bunch of guys who let us do what we wanted to, but there was no discipline.”

“Since our first game is gonna be here at home, there [will] be a lot of people expecting something big. So I just can’t wait to show them everything that we’ve been doing this summer.” — Elijah Smith, Sierra High School running back and cornerback

 

Standout Stallions 

The team has three key players Ersery is excited to watch play this season. 

Elijah Smith, a senior who plays running back and cornerback for the Stallions, has grown as a player since Ersery took over last season. 

Before then, Smith played wide receiver and cornerback, scoring only once in the 2017 season. During the 2018 football season, Smith scored six touchdowns, four of which were rushing. 

“[Smith’s] sophomore year he only had 200 yards rushing, if that,” Ersery said. “We changed the system … we put him into a system that made him successful. And he almost had 1,000 yards” last season. 

Smith has two simple goals for the season: “Keep improving, and show that the Southeast side has talent.”

In a more statistical sense, Smith is hoping to reach at least 1,500 rushing yards and score 10 touchdowns this season. He also hopes that the team will earn a new banner for the gym, commemorating a league or state victory. 

Elijah Baker, a 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound senior on defensive tackle and center, has what Ersery calls a “high football IQ.”

“With players, you’ve got to instruct them like robots. ‘Go do this. Go do that.’ And there’s no thinking,” Ersery explained. “Elijah Baker, he’s the type of guy to say, ‘Hey coach, stop calling this play ’cause every time you call it, they do this, this and this. This should be the adjustment.’” 

Ersery emphasized the rarity of such a high football IQ on a high school team.

“Ever since coach Ersery showed up, I’ve had to become mentally stronger, inside and outside, on the field and off the field,” Baker said.

Baker is hoping for 15 sacks this season, a massive improvement from last season, in which he had only one sack. He isn’t intimidated by the difference, though, as he has been working toward the goal for months.

“Discipline, commitment, that’s what we’re all about here,” he said.

Maleik Goldman is a junior with big shoes to fill.

The 2018 season was the last for Sierra’s star player, Tristan Burris. From the positions of cornerback and wide receiver, Burris averaged 5.9 tackles per game — with 53 total tackles — in 2018. He was named player of the game three times in the season, once for overall play and twice for defense.

Ersery describes Goldman as a “very hard worker and extremely fast.”

He added, “We lost Burris last year, but when you have that [Goldman’s] type of speed, you didn’t really lose [him], you know?”

Goldman echoed his teammate’s goal of earning a banner this season. Personally, he hopes to gain some recognition from Division 1 colleges before his senior year.

** Related content: Something to Cheer About **

On the rise

Ersery’s first year as head coach was promising for the Stallions. In 2018, the team went 3-7, a significant upgrade from 2017’s 1-9 record. Going into the new season, Ersery says he has grown as a coach, learning about himself and the Sierra community with each game. 

“We can do a million things, but if you can’t be consistent, it doesn’t matter,” Ersery said. “It doesn’t matter what athletes or skills we have. If we aren’t consistent we won’t win.”

“The change that I’ve seen since he’s taken over … has really been discipline,” Smith said. “That’s one thing that he really stresses. He put it on the board today: ‘discipline, discipline, discipline’ so that’s what we really needed over the past few years, and now that’s really been applied. And it’s working.”

Goldman added: “[Ersery] holds us accountable for all that we do. He’s making us men. And he’s not taking discipline off the board until we get it right.”

Despite his tough love-style coaching, Ersery emphasized the difference in character he’s witnessed from the team.

“A few years ago, there was no accountability, so therefore our kids kind of did what they wanted,” he said. “These guys are actually trying. There’s an honest effort here to change character.” He went on to explain that the team is “showing up for each other” by staying accountable to teammates, offering rides to and from practice and working hard to stay consistent each day.

And the athletes agree that they’ve undergone a character shift since Ersery arrived last season.

“[Football] was just another thing that I was doing just to stay out of trouble,” Goldman said. “But [Ersery] coming up as a coach made me love the sport and made me love what I’m doing. I’m more committed than I was before.”

Smith said that Ersery has taught him more than just plays.

“He really helped me improve my work ethic, made me work harder, made me open up my mind to bigger and better things. And not just football, I mean education and family, and that’s what I feel like I can improve on forever,” he said.

Ersery asked for the community’s support in the form of positive encouragement.

“No more negativity, no more put-downs,” he said.

“I feel like we have a lot of support around the community,” Smith said. “And since our first game is gonna be here at home, there [will] be a lot of people expecting something big. So I just can’t wait to show them everything that we’ve been doing this summer.”

intern@southeastexpress.org

Check it out

Who: Sierra vs. The Classical Academy
What: Season opening varsity football game
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 30
Where: Sierra High School, 2250 Jet Wing Drive.
Info: Gostallionsports.com

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