WESTPORT, Conn. – The Westport Police Athletic League youth football will have four coaches roaming the sidelines this fall with impressive professional and Division I college pedigrees.
Seventh-grade coach Skip Lane is a Staples High grad and a former Washington Redskin. Chad Upshaw is a former Jacksonville Jaguar and current sixth-grade coach. Mark Didio is a former Pittsburgh Steeler and Mark Gutzwiller is a former University of Michigan Wolverine — and both coach at the fifth-grade level. All agree their experience can be a valuable asset to the league.
The Daily Voice spoke with the four men at Romano Field.
The Daily Voice: How do you think kids respond to your pro and college experience?
Upshaw: Growing up in [Fairfield], football isn’t as big in this area as in other parts of the country. There are so-called "blue-blood" football states like Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
I just think there’s a lot of talent in this area that’s underdeveloped as far as football goes. I’d like to energize this area and make more kids think it’s possible to succeed in football.
Didio: With the younger ages, I think it means more for the parents. You bring the credibility of having been around the game. You did it and lived it, and I think that gets the kids and the parents excited.
TDV: What do bring as a coach to Westport PAL?
Gutzwiller: Having played at Michigan under Bo Schembechler, I think I bring more of a philosophical side. It’s all about the team. There’s no other sport that’s more dependent on the team philosophy.
Upshaw: We’ve heard a lot of kids say when they start that they don’t really know what they’re doing, which can lead to injuries. So we’re trying to instill those good habits early on. You really need to teach a kid to block and tackle and throw before you start to run the West Coast Offense.
TDV: Skip, having lived in this area for most of your life, how do you think football in Westport has changed over the years?
Lane: I think it all comes from [Staples High head coach] Marce [Petroccio]. My father was his predecessor, but Marce is a modern-day coach and he’s done a wonderful job. The kids that I coached years ago run that offense now. It comes second nature to them by the time they get there. These kids run Marce’s basics and it really helps.
TDV: Do you think your experience will translate into success for your youth teams?
Didio: We’ll let you know in November [laughs].
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