"We want to win it for a lot of reasons, but he's one of the main reasons," senior linebacker Chris Fassbender said Thursday. "He's the man. I've started for three years, and I've seen a lot, but I've really only started to appreciate him. It takes a long time.
"Well, I've always appreciated him," Fassbender said after a pause. "He knows how to win. So we listen to what he has to say."
Standard slice-of-Americana stuff.
Except for one thing.
Before perhaps the biggest game in his storied 25-year coaching tenure, Mike Pettine, C.B. West's unrelentingly demanding, persistently precise football coach, is downright placid. And so is his team.
"Oh, I'm excited," Pettine said Thursday, "because I think we have a great opportunity. But I'm relaxed, because I don't have to hear any more about how West came up short in making the playoffs."
Pettine has paid attention this week to even the most minute details, as he always has before a game. When the Bucks left Doylestown yesterday morning for Altoona, the Bucks were told to bring along two pairs of football shoes and a pair of sneakers for a practice yesterday on Mansion Park Stadium's artificial turf field.
C.B. West never has played on anything but grass, and Pettine believed that it was better to bring along too many pairs of shoes than not enough. And just in case none of those shoes felt comfortable, C.B. West had rented turf shoes
from Temple for each player.
Such painstaking preparation is only one of the reasons Pettine's teams have won 227 games and 16 league championships, and have finished the regular season unbeaten 13 times since he started coaching in 1967.
But Pettine is not whipping himself into his usual froth for this game.
It could be his latest ploy. Maybe Pettine wants to appear relaxed so his players keep their cool before the state-title game.
"And you learn that at West, whatever he does, he's doing it for a reason," said Shawn Moylan, a former C.B. West quarterback whose brother, Greg, is now the Bucks' star quarterback.
Maybe Pettine is calm for no underlying reason at all. Whatever the reason, Pettine's approach seems to be rubbing off on his team. C.B. West has had a crisp, efficient week of practice, and is eager for today's title game. But the Bucks are not overzealous.
"You always play your best when you can just go out and play," senior end Ryan Moore said. "We're just excited to play for the state title, and that's what every kid dreams for - to play for the championship. It's the chance of a lifetime."
For Pettine, this game is the fruition of a dream. More than any other high school football coach in the state, Pettine was instrumental in talking the PIAA into beginning statewide football playoffs in 1988. After barely failing to make the four-team field twice in the last three years, the Bucks have a chance to do something none of his previous 24 teams got the chance to do - win a state championship.
With a 266-pound tackle throwing blocks for a tailback who has gained nearly 1,900 yards, Erie Cathedral Prep promises to be the Bucks' toughest opponent of the season. But just earning a trip to Altoona, Pettine said, was the hardest part.
In his view, the state-title game is the reward for a season of hard work. Pettine said he was more nervous before C.B. West's Thanksgiving game against archrival Central Bucks East, because a state-playoff berth, an undefeated regular season and an undisputed league championship were at stake.
"We never, as a staff, felt as much pressure as we felt going into that final game against C.B. East - and that pressure was self-imposed," said offensive-line coach and defensive coordinator Mike Carey, a former player under Pettine who has been an assistant coach for 15 years.
"But we've been practicing extremely well this week. Psychologically, the best way I can explain it is that there's one more tier to climb on the mountain. If they're not self-motivated at this point to get there, there must be something wrong."
After an emotional and physical 34-12 first-round victory last Saturday over previously undefeated Easton, the Bucks have been eager to practice.
After Thursday's pep rally, players jogged from the school to the practice field a quarter-mile away and promptly joined drills without dawdling. When the team was asked to finish calisthenics with a round of "bellies" - running in place and hitting the deck repeatedly - everyone did so silently and in unison.
"At this point, I think this is just another dimension we can rise to," Pettine said before Thursday's practice. "If our guys go out and play their hearts out, then I can handle whatever happens. I don't think I could have handled it the previous two games."
It is not the conventional way for the Bucks to approach a game. But remember what Chris Fassbender said: They listen to what he has to say.
"We feel no pressure at all," Mike Carey said. "We're proud to be in the final game, and win or lose, we'll walk off after the game with our heads held high."