In his time as the head coach of the Collingswood High School football team, Jack McConnell has preached a sense of family and togetherness. When things aren't going well in the win and loss columns, unity keeps the team strong and plowing forward each and every week.
The message of staying together and working to improve each week, regardless of the outcome, isn’t always an easy one for young players to grasp, but it is clear that sophomore running back DeRon Maxwell has bought in.
“It starts in practice,” said Maxwell after the Panthers’ 14-7 loss to Haddon Township. “We have to work hard every day and we all have to stay together. It’s all about staying together.”
That loss was a tough pill for Maxwell and his teammates to swallow; a very winnable game had slipped through their grasp. Yet it was phrases such as “staying together” and “staying positive” that flowed from the underclassman’s mouth in the minutes following the defeat.
“He’s growing up a little bit,” McConnell said of Maxwell. “Since he started, he has been getting better with his discipline and things like that. He has been working a little harder and his attitude is up.”
McConnell pointed to a moment in the game when Maxwell made a mistake, but responded properly, as evidence that despite being a younger player, he has the makeup of a leader.
“He used to get down on himself pretty quick,” McConnell said. “There was a moment (Saturday) when he got down on himself briefly, but just brushed it off and got going again. I was impressed with that.”
Maxwell figures to be a focal point of the Panthers’ offense this season. He scored the team’s lone touchdown Saturday while accounting for 68 rushing yards on a team-high 13 carries. Maxwell demonstrated quickness through the gaps and the ability to break a tackle or two. Considering he's just a sophomore, it’s hard not to expect big things from Maxwell in the future.
“He’s a big player for us and he will only get better,” McConnell said.
Next up for Collingswood is a road showdown with Overbrook on Friday. The Rams edged the Panthers 14-12 last season, and this week’s match-up figures to be another close one. Overbrook lost to Audubon to start the season, but responded with a 42-6 win over a Gateway team that figures to endure a tough season.
With the likes of Haddonfield, West Deptford and Haddon Heights still on the schedule, Friday’s contest could be one of the Panthers’ best chances to put a win on the board. Maxwell is confident the team can turn the season around if it holds to a basic mantra.
“All we can do,” he said, “is stay together and keep working.”