In a lot of ways, Dover head football coach Eric Lam is like your typical high school coach.
He's a local guy who came back to his roots to coach the sport he loves. He molds young minds in the classroom as a teacher. And he'd rather direct any compliments about on-field success toward anyone other than himself.
"I was fortunate to get a good group of coaches around me," Lam said during last Monday's York-Adams Football Media Day. "We just did what we could to get these guys in the best position to make plays. They're the ones who went out and did what they did last year. We had a great group of seniors last year. Leadership and from a talent standpoint, we owe them so much."
In his first season as the Dover head coach last year, Lam took a team that finished below .500 in 2012 and transformed it into Division II champions. It was quite the turnaround, but one that Lam was ready to help guide. It was a job that he prepared years for, even taking an unconventional coaching path in order to make it possible.
A step back: A graduate of Dallastown in 1994, Lam quickly burst onto the coaching scene, taking a job at Susquehannock as a teacher and assistant coach on the football team. That experience resulted in him landing his first head coaching position at his alma mater in 2003. However, the homecoming for Lam wasn't what he expected, going just 4-6 in his first season with the Wildcats. And rather than improving as he gained experience, the Wildcats went in the opposite direction, sputtering to a 3-7 record in his second year at the helm, resulting in his dismissal as head coach.
"I think those two years were valuable," Lam said. "Sometimes, we think we're ready for something, and maybe I was, but at the same time, the more experience you gather in your life, whether it's directly related to football, or it could be something else, is going to make you better at what you do when you take things away."
Still young for a coach (Lam was not yet 30 years old), what he did next, following his time at Dallastown, was something that could only be described by one word: mature.
Rather than rushing ahead and looking for the next possible head coaching job to come his way, he took a step back. It wasn't until 2010, when Lam took a teaching job at Dover, that he got back into the football landscape, landing a spot on the coaching staff under longtime head coach Bill Miller.
Miller, whose name is synonymous with Dover football, coached the team for 14 seasons during two separate stints and led the team to some of its best finishes in school history. Lam caught on with Miller's staff in 2010, when the team only went 6-5. But the following year, Lam was part of the coaching staff that led the Eagles to a 9-2 mark, earning a share of the Division II title and qualifying for districts. But after stepping away from the game again in 2012, Lam returned to the sidelines at Dover, only this time it was as the head coach, replacing Miller and having to live up to the expectations left behind by the longtime coach.
Seeing success: But rather than feeling the pressure to replace Miller, Lam was confident. He earned his second shot to lead a program and he was eager to put his own stamp on the Eagles.
Dover was in a constant state of up-and-down play, following up its 9-2 season in 2011 with a disappointing 4-6 campaign in 2012. When Lam took over, he wanted to make sure that his players understood that success comes through hard work and that goes for both on and off the field.
"I want these kids to understand what it takes to be a champion on and off the field every day," he said. "That's my challenge, as far as, during the summertime, not missing workouts. During school, make sure you get all your work done. That's the pressure as a teacher and coach."
That champions mentality quickly translated into wins for the Eagles and resulted in Lam's first winning season as a head coach. Dover went 9-3 in Lam's first season last year, including a 5-0 mark in division play, capturing the Division II title for the second time in three seasons.
It would've been easy to pinpoint Lam as the main reason that the Eagles made such a drastic shift in just one season. But like the humble guy that he is, he was quick to redirect any praise.
"I think as a coaching staff, we did a good job of putting kids in the right positions and then they were able to make the plays," he said. "It's what they did on the field that made the difference in the two years."
When Lam was brought on as the head coach before last season, he instilled a different culture within the locker room. Now, Dover enters 2014 as a favorite to repeat as division champs. There is hype surrounding this team and it has Lam to thank for that. Now it's up to him to make sure that his team doesn't lose that championship-caliber focus.
"We're not looking in terms of what we did last year," he said. "It's a whole new year and we're fighting to do the best we can."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.