Tolton coach gives players extra motivation for district tournament

Monday, February 24, 2014 | 9:08 p.m. CST; updated 10:13 p.m. CST, Monday, February 24, 2014

COLUMBIA — All of the teams Fr. Tolton Catholic Regional High School (16-7) will be playing in its district tournament have something the Trailblazers don't: seniors.

Seniors, the heartbeat of teams, have more to play for than anyone else when this time of the year comes around. It could be the final competitive basketball game of their lives. Statistically, according to a CBS report, only 3.1 percent of them will be playing basketball in college. The remaining 96.9 percent are playing for their basketball survival.

District tournament

What: Fr. Tolton Catholic High School vs. Fayette High School

When: 5 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Harrisburg

The oldest players for the Trailblazers, though, are juniors.

On Monday, the night before the Trailblazers begin their run at state with a first-round game against Fayette High School, Tolton coach Tyler Clark sat his players down after practice and reminded them to fight for every game as if it could be their last.

"It could be easy for us to want to give up and think about next season," he told his team. "But we can't do that."

In case his speech wasn't motivation enough, Clark gave the team something else to fight for. The Trailblazers gathered in Room 113 on the first floor of Tolton after practice to vote on a "prize" they would receive for winning the district tournament.

The decision was unanimous. If Tolton wins its district tournament, Clark will shave his head.

"That would be so ugly," freshman Michael Porter Jr. said through his laughter.

Clark, who currently wears his brown hair short with a spike in the front, tried to fight back on his players' decision or at least reduce the personal cost.

"I'll do a one-buzz," he bargained.

"No," the players replied unanimously, "you go bald."

Other top choices included assistant coaches having to grow mustaches and Afros.

Clark said it was good to have some fun with his players before districts begin.

The room was filled with laughing and joking. One player suggested Clark shave his eyebrows as well. Clark shot that option down quickly, and more players laughed.

It wasn't your typical team meeting the night before the playoffs start.

"How about that for a different approach?" Clark said jokingly.

In all of the fun, Clark and his team did not forget the weight of the upcoming games.

"We've done the best we can to simulate district type environment with our big games," Clark said. Tolton has had plenty of big games. As a class 2 school the Trailblazers have played six class 4 and 5 opponents.

Clark has watched at least six games in person for each of Tolton's potential opponents in the district tournament.

"I probably know all of their players. I know the way they like to play. And I know how their coaches like to coach," Clark told his team.

Tolton captain Josh Boyer, a junior, said he is trying to think of each game as if it could be his last.

"You have to put your mind through it and think, you know, this could be our only year," Boyer said. "And everybody wants to win state."

Fellow captain Cameron Bagley said he thinks his team is performing the best they have all year right now, which is right where a team wants to be heading into the postseason.

"We're trying to build chemistry and come together as a unit. When we come together as unit, that's when we play our best ball," Bagley said.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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