Castleton football coach Tony Volpone can point to a lot of contributing factors for the team’s first winning season in four years. The team ended at 6-4, placing them third in conference play, one game away from postseason play. But this season was special not only for the success but because of the people who made it happen. He recently sat down to talk about it.
Q. Did you envision a hefty number of seniors and fifth-year players coming back after COVID derailed their season in 2020?
A. With COVID, it made the possibility of returning seniors and fifth-year players difficult to anticipate because everyone’s circumstances are different. Whether it be finances, job opportunities, or family matters they all obviously played a role in the decision making. But we were confident in the culture we’ve built here, making people have the desire to come back. I believe the desire these guys had is a tribute to the people that are a part of this program.
Q. What were your expectations coming into the 2021 season, knowing the amount of experience the team had coming back?
A. The biggest thing for us going into the 2021 season was capturing that conference championship. Many of us coaches spoke to the seniors and fifth-year players who decided to come back, and they all referenced winning a conference championship being their biggest motivation for returning this season. We definitely had other goals collectively like being the best academic team within the conference, pouring support and love toward the community through community service, but in the end winning the conference championship was priority number one. We had the talent and we definitely had the experience.
Q. A lot of sacrifices and changes were made in order for these guys to play, so can you tell me what made them special?
A. They definitely went through a ton of adversity over the past couple of years dating back to 2019. In 2019 we lost five games by a total of 25 points, but ended the season on a two-game winning streak. Wins against quality opponents in convincing fashion including a win against the conference champions. The way we ended in 2019 left players hungry to continue playing because we were all of the belief that we’d finally figured it out. But COVID hit, derailing our season but the guys stayed true to the program because they wanted another opportunity to compete for our ultimate goal. Ultimately they showed me true persistence over the course of the past couple seasons.
Q. Coming off Castleton’s first winning record in the past four years, tell me how much of their impact influenced the team’s 2021 success?
A. Their impact was crucial. I believe they were the key ingredient in our success this past season. It’s a testament to their experience, commitment, and leadership.
Q. You had the honor of coaching this great group of guys. What did you learn from them that stuck out to you the most?
A. What I learned most from them is that it’s important to surround yourself with good people. That means coaches, players and even the interactions between the two are key. Surrounding yourself with good people makes going to work every day enjoyable because you know the man next to you always has your best interest at heart.
Q. Do you believe having the seniors and fifth-year players come back gave you an advantage both on and off the field?
A. Yeah I think so. On the field, the seniors and fifth-year players gave us another year of experience, and another year of physical development. But not having to worry about the off-field issues like the expectation in the classroom, the expectation of decision making around campus. Just having that maturity within our program made things easier for us.
Q. With the 2022 season approaching, do you see their leadership setting the mold for the team in the future?
A. They’ve certainly set an expectation in terms of work ethic, culture, and discipline. They’re a class that will be missed, but it’s not like the cupboard is completely empty. There are players on this team who will fill the shoes of players like Anthony Martinez, Chris Rice, Dustin Rock, Jacob McCarthy, Seth Gewanter, Spencer Kozlak and I believe those players are ready and able to do that.