Birmingham — It’s always tough to follow a legend and that’s exactly what Dave Sofran will do as head coach of Birmingham Brother Rice’s football program.
Sofran, 38, played under Al Fracassa 20 years ago, then was an assistant coach under him for 14 seasons, including the last three as offensive coordinator when the Warriors won Division 2 state championships.
Now, Sofran takes over for Fracassa, who won a state-record 430 games and guided Brother Rice to 13 state titles since 1969.
Sofran knows there will be pressure when he leads the Warriors onto Fracassa Field this fall, but it will be more self-imposed than anything else. He feels blessed that Fracassa put trust in him in past seasons with game-planning, dealing with parents and with workouts.
Brother Rice will carry its 22-game winning streak into its opener at 2 p.m. Saturday against Chicago Brother Rice at Wayne State University.
“Coach (Fracassa) gave me an opportunity to handle some duties in past years so I kind of had the handle of what head coaches were doing,” Sofran said. “Obviously, having the continuity of our staff has helped with the day-to-day operations so things have gone smoothly.
“This is a tradition that was built by him and that’s a great part of it. It’s like Bear Bryant at Alabama. Coach Saban is there, but Bear Bryant is very well known. Again, I’m not trying to be Coach Fracassa, I’m just trying to be me and take it one day at a time.”
So, how does Sofran’s personality or style differ from Fracassa’s?
“I guess I have my moments of getting after guys, but Coach (Fracassa) over the years I think had mellowed out. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, I mean there were stories and of course it was a different time and different kids.
“I would leave when I played with tears a few times based on what was said or whatever so I don’t think that maybe I’m as hard on those guys as maybe you can be, but in this day and age you have to be careful with what you say and do with kids. The kind of life lessons I learned when I played here, there was definitely adversity before there was joy with learning the game or whatever.”
Perfect fit to move on
Sofran will inherit a lot of talent, including three-year starting quarterback Alex Malzone (Michigan) and receivers Grant Perry and Delano Madison.
The veteran players are thrilled to have Sofran lead them during their final year.
“Coach Sofran is going to come in and do great things,” said Malzone, who threw for 2,782 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, including a 20-for-24 effort for 263 yards and 4 TDs in the title game. “Ever since he took over in the winter, starting with the morning workouts at 6 a.m. though summer conditioning, he’s been positive, been upbeat and everyone’s behind him.
“He’s been here for 15 years, went to Brother Rice, knows what Brother Rice football is all about. He loves it just as much as we do. He played here, played under Coach Fracassa, coached under Coach Fracassa. He’s also friends with a lot of these coaches and they’re close. It just shows the chemistry they have with each other. I feel we’re going to have another great year.”
So, what did Malzone learn from Sofran the offensive coordinator in past years?
“He’s been the biggest part of our offense, along with Coach Fracassa, even the mental side, too,” Malzone said. “I talked to Coach Fracassa and Coach Sofran a lot, and they just let me know stuff about life, everything beyond football.”
Madison (Western Michigan) can’t wait to get the season started and rightfully so since he broke his leg during the first practice last year.
“He’s young and energetic, he knows what’s going on and how to get the best out of his players,” Madison said of Sofran. “He’s been coaching under Coach Fracassa for a long time so I know he’s ready.
“I’m so looking forward to playing again. I’m healthier than ever. Sitting out last year tore my heart to pieces. I’ll be receiver, slot, play corner and return punts and kicks. I can’t wait.”
And, Sofran can’t wait to watch Madison back on the field with his 4.3 speed.
Sure, Brother Rice will have pressure coming in as three-time defending state champs, but Malzone is ready for the challenge.
“A lot of people like to say pressure is just what you put on yourself, what you put on your shoulders,” he said. “Obviously, there’s going to be excitement, there’s going to be nervous people around. I mean last year going into the season if someone asked me if we were going to go undefeated, I’d say I hope so but I’m not going to guarantee it. We have the players, we have the coaches that can do it.
“Guys will have to step up, some underclassmen, too, and that’s the best part about it. We’ve won 22 straight games and we have the target on our back and people are coming for us, but we’re expecting it. We know what we need to do to win. Our expectation is to go back (to Ford Field) for the fourth one and four-peat.”