North Delta football

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Phelps takes on leadership role for the Green Wave

By Angie Ledbetter

Don Phelps, a senior at North Delta School, has only one year of varsity football under his belt but one would not know it by seeing his summer workouts. He takes his position as defensive end and offensive guard very serious and has worked very hard this summer.

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He is second place in summer workouts among the seniors with 43 workouts, behind senior Josh Garrott, with one week left to go.

“That shows you just how hard he has worked,” head coach Richard Russo said.

Phelps has attended North Delta since first grade and played football in seventh grade but did not like it. He decided to give it another try last year. He likes it now because he is part of a team with a new coach, a new style and he thinks it is fun.

He came in last year the same time as head coach Richard Russo did.

“I felt like he did, a new school and everything,” said Phelps. “Coming in as a new player, the team didn’t expect much out of me but they accepted me just fine. They made me feel welcome.”

Phelps thinks the football program at North Delta is real good.

“It’s new, and it’s going to be good for the next couple of years. We’re a real good team. We have good Christian views in it. All of us and the coaches are real close.

“We’re real close to Coach Russo,” Phelps continues. “We can joke around and it’s not awkward being around each other. Coach Russo is a good motivator. He screams at times but he’s not trying to put you down or cut you. He’s trying to build you up as a football player and build your character to get you prepared for college and the rest of your life.”

Phelps said Russo has brought Christianity into the football program.

“We have a team chaplain,” he said. “We have prayer every time before we go out on the field, and prayer every time we come off the field. We have a small sermon before we go on the field. We’ve gone to churches as far as the football team.”

Russo said the main thing about being a coach is that it is a calling.

“Christianity is part of the team and that is very important,” Russo said. “We want to go after winning games but our main goal is to make a positive impact on these kids with Christian values.”

Russo is a very family-oriented coach, according to Phelps.

“He is always talking about ways to come closer as a team, being closer to each other and hanging out,” said Phelps. “One example is that the offensive line hangs more with each other than we would because we practice together. He tells us to put being with our family first and then football comes after your family.”

Phelps likes the way Russo treats all players the same.

“Coach Russo also doesn’t show favoritism,” he said. “He doesn’t care who you are, who your parents are, whether you’re class president or not. The best people will play on the field. It’s how you play and it’s how you are on the field.

“There is no trash talk or any fighting between team mates,” Phelps added. “It’s all about one team.”

Phelps said he is closer to assistant coach Lance Thomas because he is his position coach.

“Coach Thomas is a really great guy,” Phelps said. “You can just go up to him and mess with him and have fun with him. But when you mess up, you better get ready for it. He is going to bring something.

“Just like Coach Russo, he isn’t trying to make you feel bad,” Phelps continued. “He is just trying to make you mad, so you will do it right the next time, do it 100 percent, and do it fast. We have a lot of fun together with him.”

Phelps attended the camp at Mississippi State in June with the team and liked it.

The team was taught some college moves, according to Phelps.

“College is a lot different from high school,” he said. “The offensive line, the backs, and the safeties all did 7-on-7 competition and did great. They beat some big teams. We had a lot of fun but most of all, we all bonded as a team.”

Phelps talked about summer workouts.

“I’m giving it all I can when I am not busy,” he said. “The majority of the team is giving it their all.”

Aside from a “few stragglers,” the team is encouraging each other to get ready for the upcoming season.

“We want to show everybody who we are,” Phelps said.

Though Phelps does not have a lot of game experience with just one year under his belt, he works at being a leader on this Green Wave team.

“Last year I did not play much as a junior, but this year I will try to stand up and say something to motivate my teammates to push them to the point where it can help them when they become a senior,” he said.

For Phelps, setting examples for his teammates mean not acting up all the time and when it comes down to football to be serious.

“I want to show them that I want to win,” he said. “I want to encourage my teammates by my voice and my actions. When I am on the field, I become serious. If they mess up, I will not scream at them.

“I will try to get them mad and pump them up to get it better,” he continued. “I will always try to lift my teammates up. Our coaches have taught us to never put anybody down and I want to do that.”

The season is just a few weeks away and Phelps said he thinks the schedule is  easier than last year and the team is ready.

“It should be an easy schedule, but with a couple of hard games like we did last year,” he said. “I think that everybody is going to give 110 percent. We are ready and getting closer each day.

“We are ready to start practicing and get out there to show everybody who we are,” Phelps added. “As far as what I expect from the team, I expect nothing but the best. I know with this team, if we lose, it’s going to be left on the field. We are not going to be sore losers, we will shake their hands and keep our heads high and prepare for the next game.”

Russo described Phelps as an “awesome kid” to have around and to have on the team.

“He has worked really hard for the past two years and has grown spiritually and maturely. You want a bunch of guys like Don on your team. He wasn’t overly blessed but works very hard for everything that he gets. He is not the biggest guy and not the fastest guy, but he works very hard on all of it.”

Phelps likes to play other sports but says that he is not good at them.

“I like to play tennis but football is the only sport that I truly care about and want to become better at,” he said.

Taking up some of his spare time, Phelps enjoys being involved at his church, Pilgrims Rest Baptist Church. He also goes to other churches for youth activities. One church that he enjoys going to is Batesville Church of Christ because they have a big youth group.

Family is very important to Phelps. He enjoys working with his dad, Donald Phelps Sr., who is retired from Tennessee Gas Pipeline after 36 years. They have a backhoe and do that sort of work.

“My dad and I are very close,” he said. “He is my best friend. He is enjoying being retired, but he does more work now than he did when he was working for Tennessee Gas.”

His mother, Angie, is a nurse at the Pediatric Clinic in Batesville. He has two half brothers and one half sister, Shane, Olivia, and Brandon.

Don plans to attend college after graduation and is thinking about studying criminal justice.

He said planning for college is still confusing right now. He said he was not sure where he will go, but it will be wherever his dad sends him.