By SAMANTHA GORMAN
After years of firsthand experience on the field and as a coach, Napoleon Sykes is able to sum up his approach to team culture in three letters: T.C.B.
“Take Care of Business and Take Care of your Brother,” Sykes explained. “If we can get to the point where we walk, talk and breathe T.C.B. – on the field, out in town, when we fly or drive back home, when we’re in the classroom – that’s championship football. That’s going to translate into wins. Teams that are selfish, teams that are really devoted to making everybody better and pushing each other, those are teams that are successful.”
A long-time coach with a lengthy resume, Sykes has been appointed head coach of the Lawrenceville School’s football team.
A Baltimore native, Sykes turned from athlete to coach after playing football at Wake Forest University. His love for the sport led him to coach at three different colleges, multiple high school teams along the East Coast, and even spend a year coaching and interning with professional teams.
Sykes also started up a football program at UNC Charlotte.
“I love high school football and I love college football just for the life experience of the players. That part of their life is a big transition for them: going from high school to college, or college into the real world,” Sykes said.
As a family man, Syke’s priority lies with his wife and children. He explained that the majority of his coaching decisions have been based around them. As it turned out, he was not the only one excited about a job opportunity at Lawrenceville School.
“When this opportunity came about, I looked at it and thought, it would be really cool for our kids to basically grow up in Hogwarts,” Sykes said. I showed my oldest son, who is eight, a picture of one of the dining halls and he said, ‘It looks just like the Great Hall!’ ” he laughed.
Arriving in Lawrenceville with his family on Aug. 17, Sykes is faced with a different scenario than what he is used to.
“Normally going into a football season, you get hired in the spring. It’s going to be crazy because I haven’t met any of the kids in person. So when we start on [Aug.] 21, it’ll really be the first time I get eyes on them.”
However, this quick turnaround has not concerned Sykes in the slightest.
“I don’t see things as being a disadvantage not being up there. Football is football. When Saturday rolls around, the 21st, we’ll hit it and get it and be alright,” he said.
Despite having not met his athletes in person yet, Sykes can tell through emails and messages that he is working with a lot of potential.
“There’s really good energy with these guys,” he said. “I think we have kids that are eager to build something special. That’s the cool part that I’m excited about.”
When asked about his coaching style, Sykes rattled off three descriptors: “High energy, a lot of fun, loud.”
“I’ll be 38 in October but I’ve still got a little pep in my step,” he added with a laugh.
Along with a heavy emphasis on the enjoyment of the sport, Sykes said he is equally as focused on educating his players to become great athletes and people. Depth, to Sykes, is having as many players maximizing their talents as possible.
“At the end of it, we are trying to build as much depth as we can by giving kids an opportunity to learn,” Sykes said. “[The coaching staff is] high energy and always taking the opportunity to teach.
“I was an English major at [Wake Forest], so word choice is extremely important to me. If you tell a kid they want to catch a ball, obviously they want to catch a ball. Tell them how to catch it. Tell them what they did wrong,” he said.
With this mindset, the goals that Sykes has for his first year at Lawrenceville are not specific to statistics, wins or titles.
“We want to win a state championship, but that’s easy to say. Our focus is really on the bigger picture,” Sykes said.
“For me, my philosophy is to use this sport to make better people. Part of football is winning games, but you have a really huge opportunity to have a positive impact on kids, like being able to show them what it means to be a man, what it means to be a father, what it means to be a friend.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to impart that stuff onto [the athletes] so when you send them out of your program, they’re going and being great ambassadors for Lawrenceville as a whole, Lawrenceville football, and their families. That’s our goal, all the other stuff comes with it,” Sykes said.
“Football is football. The scoring system is the same, it’s a 100 yard field, you get four downs,” he added. “But the difference is the people and the culture that you build.”