Bill Belichick walked into the radio studio at Gillette Stadium on a Monday afternoon for his weekly interview on WEEI on the “Ordway, Merloni & Fauria” show. Dressed in a red sweatshirt with black lettering across the chest, the coach sat down ready to answer questions about his team’s performance on Sunday.
At first glance, the sweatshirt could be mistaken for Rutgers attire. Considering Belichick’s connection to the university, seeing the coach sporting Scarlet Knights red and black seemed fitting. But a closer look showed black lettering that read ‘Struthers’ and not Rutgers.
Struthers, Ohio, is the town in which Belichick’s father, Steve, grew up. The elder Belichick graduated from Struthers High School in 1936, and was a three-time captain of the football team. While most high school students from Struthers went on to work in the steel mills, football gave him the opportunity to leave and pursue a college education at Western Reserve University while playing fullback for the Spartans. Athletics opened doors and led to his storied career as a coach and scout.
"It’s a unique community with a pack your lunch and go to work mentality,” Struthers High School head football coach Curt Kuntz said. “You don’t expect anybody to give you anything."
“That was who he was,” Belichick said of his father. “He carried that mentality with him and it rubbed off on me quite a bit.”
Struthers is a throwback town where everybody still knows their neighbors. It’s a working class community that revolved around the steel mill industry. When one of the largest mills closed in the 1970s, it left many without jobs and tore families apart. The football scholarship allowed Steve the opportunity to avoid a life of mill work and instead took his family on a different path. Without it, things may have turned out quite differently for the Belichicks.
Inspired by the opportunities athletics afforded him, Steve was determined to make a difference. He dedicated his life to helping young people through sports and maturity. Through his storied coaching career, he changed the lives of young people around the world. He saw the impact sports had on his life, and he wanted to help other young athletes reach their full potential.
“When my dad was there, it was the late 1930s, so the back end of The Depression. Everyone was struggling,” Belichick said. “My dad wanted to give back as much as he could to the community that he grew up in.”
While high school football players across the country know all about Bill Belichick and his six Super Bowl titles as the head coach of the Patriots, Steve’s impact on the game is not as mainstream. At Struthers High School, Curt Kuntz is changing that narrative. In his eight years as the head football coach, Kuntz has worked tirelessly to educate players about the great Struthers native and his legacy.
“It’s important for these students to know about Steve,” Kuntz said. “He changed the game. He saw things that nobody else saw. He preached that it wasn’t all about game day. It’s about the 346 days that you’re preparing and doing the little things. That’s what I try to talk to my kids about. It’s about the other days that nobody sees. That’s when you win championships.”
Steve’s message is similar to the one his son preaches to Patriots players each day in Foxborough: Practice execution becomes game day reality. Funny to think the Belichick mentality has roots in Struthers.
It’s one thing for Kuntz to educate the high school students about Steve and his message, but until recently, quality practice was simply not a reality. Struthers high school is situated in an area that lacks flat ground. Outside of the dated football field, there was little space for other athletes to practice and work on honing their craft. If the football field was in use, coaches of other teams were often left scrambling trying to find a place for their team to practice.
The athletes longed for a new turf football field along with a new track and baseball field to provide space for their teams to practice. After raising more than $1.3 million, Struthers High School was able to make their students’ dream a reality.
In the summer of 2019, the football field turf was replaced, a new track was installed and the baseball field was renovated. These improvements gave the soccer team a place to host their home games while creating more areas for other teams to practice.
The facilities are a game changer for the students at Struthers. By having a place to practice each day, the students will have a chance to reach their potential in their respective sports. When it came time for the school to name the new facility, dedicating the complex to Steve was a no brainer.
In honor of the man who cherished every opportunity to practice and improve, Struthers High School named the new facility the Steve Belichick Complex.
“I think to honor and respect the game, he deserved to have a complex named after him,” Kuntz said. “His legacy will live on, and Steve deserved that.”
“That was his goal, to make things better for the next generation,” Belichick said. “He would be very proud to be a part of anything associated with helping young people through sports, especially at the high school he went to. It’s a tremendous honor to my dad and our family.”
Belichick’s childhood included trips back to Struthers to visit family each year. He has been connected to the town for more than 60 years. It’s a community that has deep roots in football. Bob Commings, former head coach at Iowa, was the head coach at Struthers High School from 1962-68. Former Patriots defensive coordinator Ron Lynn also coached at Struthers, and current Patriots coaching assistant Carmen Bricillo coached at Struthers as well.
It’s a town that greatly impacted the Belichick family, and Steve Belichick’s impact will continue to be felt in and around the lives of young athletes at Struthers.