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Prep football: Piner's impact extends beyond field

When a classmate tosses a plastic bag into a Piner High School recycle bin, football player Adrian Torres gently reminds him that such items contaminate the recycle stream.

“I just tell them nicely it doesn’t belong there,” the Prospectors’ star running back said this week, manning his post by one of several recycle centers the team oversees in the quad at the west Santa Rosa school.

The team has embraced responsibility this year for part of the school’s Go Green initiative, which begins with students disposing of their cans, bottles, food, paper and trash.

The athletes, and their coaches, sometimes even reach into the blue bins to retrieve unrecyclable items.

This isn’t Dumpster diving, the team is proud of it - proud of their contributions and leadership on campus, something that had been lacking from student-athletes before this year, administrators and coaches said.

As the school readies for its biggest football game of the year Friday night - the North Coast Section Division 4 semifinal game at Cardinal Newman - the Piner school community is reveling in its most successful football season in nearly 20 years.

The Prospectors’ historic 11-1 season, marred only by a hard-fought defeat to Santa Rosa in the North Bay League-Redwood Division title game, has spread through the rest of the student body and even beyond.

It’s become a point of pride for the team, other athletes, the 1,437-member student body, staff and even alumni.

“We take any opportunity we can to make our campus better,” said first-year coach Terence Bell, a Piner teacher and alum.

Bell’s nonstop energy and positivity, along with that of first-year Athletic Director Marc Anderson, drives the team to strive for more.

As a Piner student, Bell, 30, served as student body president. He was named teacher of the year last year at Piner. On campus and on the sideline, he reminds students and athletes about their responsibilities in a gentle but firm and friendly style.

Teammates call each other brothers and they say they feel a sense of family, a sense of responsibility to support each other.

“The biggest impact,” principal Stacy Desideri said of the team’s success and campus leadership, “is that coach Bell and his players have 100% commitment and 100% high expectations, regardless of whether on the football field or off.”

In addition to taking on the recycling program, the football players show more respect to the staff and teachers, she said, and participate in all kinds of campus activities.

“Some of them came to the eighth-grade orientation night, with all the scared new freshmen,” she said. “They asked, ‘Can I show you how to get into your locker? Do you need someone to eat with? You look like an athlete, do you want to join a team?’”

The football team in particular is well-behaved this year.

“I’ve been at three high schools,” she said. “The level of respect these athletes show from 7 a.m. to game time is unprecedented.”

In fact, Anderson said, the respectful behavior has spread to the greater student body.

“We didn’t suspend any kid for the first 19 days of school, schoolwide,” he said.

“Last year, we had trouble making it through a week,” Bell added.

They both credit that to the role modeling by the football team.

“A culture is being created,” Anderson said.

When Bell first applied to be Piner’s coach in 2016, he submitted a book he wrote called “The Process,” essentially his blueprint of how to change a program. It contains his philosophies and expectations for players, teachers, his staff and himself. He continues to refer to it.

He didn’t get the job three years ago - but he even uses that as a teaching moment for his kids.

He says the answer wasn’t “No,” it was just “Not yet.” Keep trying.

Bell also created a progress report his players’ teachers fill out every two weeks. It includes the student’s grade, but also asks: “In your opinion, has the student earned the right to play?”

The report essentially adds more than 70 teachers to help student-athletes stay on the right track.

“Before football, it’s about the culture,” Bell said. “We believe as long as they are given a platform for doing something good, they will.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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