The team huddle after a football game is an interesting environment.
After a win the attention level is very high, everyone is smiling, a little less sore and hanging on every word while listening to each coach say good job in a certain phases of the game.
That changes a bit after a loss when every fourth word might be heard by some as the disappointment clouds the players' focus and they are looking at the ground or off into the distance.
Fortunately for third-seeded Desert Vista (10-1) the latter hasn't occurred very much as they prepare for the Thursday's Division I state quarterfinal home game against No. 6 Pinnacle (9-2).
One thing has been become clear with the Thunder's huddle in 2011 with the addition of Brent Miller to the coaching staff.
The Desert Vista postgame talk is intense every week when Miller, a former Desert Vista and Arizona State player, steps to the forefront.
The message is always about protecting the team.
"For this week, it's a short week," Miller told reporters after Friday's 42-7 win over North Canyon. "It's been a long season. It (was) week 11 for us. You want to get healthy. ‘Protect the team' this week means getting healthy. Don't skip out on treatment because you want to get home early after practice. Make sure you go to training room, make sure you're getting ice. The little things that go a long way."
The makeup of the Thunder this season has mostly eliminated worries about off the field stuff, but a reminder is always helpful.
"It certainly help us remember to do the right thing," senior two-way lineman J.J. Dielman said. "A couple of years ago we got in trouble because of some of that stuff, but he is definitely effective. He's a little bit younger (compared to other coaches) and brings a little more energy."
Miller, who is a tight ends coach and special education teacher, agreed that this year's team, with 35 seniors, is pretty grounded and the message doesn't have to be about don't do something stupid.
"It depends on what's going on with our team," he said. "We luckily have a lot of really good kids. So it's not going to be the same if, maybe years to come, we have some knuckleheads. For some teams, maybe ‘protect the team' means don't get arrested. For our team, it's ‘stay away from the fast food the night before the game.' It's about being 100 percent in everything.
"‘Protect the team' may mean that instead of staying up until midnight, get to bed and be 100 percent rested."
Miller, 27, has been there and it wasn't all that long ago as a 2003 graduate. He knows the players don't want to be told they can't do something so he tailors it so they see the bigger pictures.
"If you know you're not supposed to be doing something, don't do it, and if you know you're buddy's doing something he's not supposed to be doing, help him out," Miller said. "Sometimes high school kids don't want to hear no. They don't want to hear, ‘Don't stay out to late,' or ‘Don't do this.'
"This emphasizes the team aspect and makes it a positive. You can say, ‘Don't get in trouble,' and it sounds like you're talking to him. But if you say, ‘Don't get in trouble ... for your team' it changes the way they receive it."
Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds believes the message from Miller has been fresh and helped put some things into perspective. Miller, who played for Hinds, was going to be part of the Thunder's staff in 2009, but a chance to coach for the University of Washington postponed the start date by two years.
"He's totally different," Hinds said of Miller's growth as a coach. "He took in so much up there that he's brought back here. He's been such an important part of this coaching staff this season from day one."
Freelancer writer Brett Fera contributed to this story.
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