"We needed something to believe in," Tabb said.
Tabb was standing on the track off the side of the football field before practice Wednesday. His players were warming up.
Without warning, Tabb yelled out, "Code Red."
His players yelled back, "Code Red."
In his third year as head coach at his alma mater, Tabb knew he had the makings of a special team. The Indians have big-time talent all over the field, from quarterback Manny Cortez to wide receiver Amar Williams, from tight end Anderson-Copes to running back Tyrik Thomas, just to name a handful of the team's top players.
But talent never is enough. Tabb knew that if this team was going to reach its potential, the Indians needed focus, discipline, accountability, and the emotional balance to bounce back from the inevitable adversity that strikes every squad during the long season.
"I came up with about 20 sayings," Tabb said. "I brought them to my seniors. They picked [the 13 that made the final list]. So now we had something in writing that we had to live by."
These are strong, simple sayings, from "We must be held accountable for our actions," to "No Excuses."
Every team tries to live by these principles. This isn't revolutionary stuff. But sometimes it makes a big difference to write things down, to set formal standards, to have printed reminders of a program's philosophy.
Is "Code Red" the reason the Indians are 10-1, the No. 4 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings, and set to play Millville (11-0) Friday night in the South Jersey Group 4 title game at Rowan University?
Who can say? One thing is clear. This team has lived up to its manifesto, rallying to beat Shawnee in overtime in the opener and bouncing back from its only loss - a devastating 42-35 setback at Camden Catholic on Oct. 21 - to play its best football over the following five weeks.
"What the football team has done, that's a message I want every kid in this building to hear," Pennsauken principal Dennis Vinson said. "The message has seeped into the regular climate of the school. There's an energy."
The covenant has spread through the high school. The field hockey team yelled "Code Red" when it broke the pregame huddle. The cheerleaders chant "Code Red" while forming the lines through which the football team runs onto the field.
Pennsauken is like any other high school: A winning football team can rally the student body, with the touchdown makers at the center of attention.
But Tabb knew he was tapping into something special when his message spread beyond sports.
"I've got kids in the hallways who don't play anything coming up to me and saying, 'Coach Tabb, Code Red,' " Tabb said. "You have to love that."
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports