From trash cans to gold chains, how college football coaches are motivating players

Miami defensive back Dee Delaney wears the Hurricanes’ turnover chain after intercepting a pass against Florida State on Oct. 7.
Miami defensive back Dee Delaney wears the Hurricanes’ turnover chain after intercepting a pass against Florida State on Oct. 7.

Football coaches are always trying to find ways to motivate their teams during games.

Pregame pep talks aren’t enough anymore, and some coaches are now turning to tangible rewards that are given out for big plays.

In the mid-1990s, Virginia Tech introduced its lunch pail, a black, old-school metal lunch box that represented the work ethic of the team’s defense. Other schools have followed, and come up with a variety of props – like wrestling-type belts and chains – to fire up their players.

In its Sept. 3 season-opener against UCLA, Texas A&M debuted a drum major’s baton. It was given to freshman running back Trayveon Williams, who strutted on the sidelines with it after his 61-yard touchdown run.

That same weekend Tennessee broke out a gray trash can – with orange and white checkerboard trim – in its game against Georgia Tech. That’s right, a trash can. Whenever a player forced a turnover, that person ran to the sideline and dunked the football in it.

The prop with the most flash came from Miami, which proved its swag was back with the new Turnover Chain, a giant gold link with the U logo in the middle. The chain made an appearance in Durham on Sept. 29 after linebacker Michael Pinckney picked off Duke quarterback Daniel Jones in Miami’s 31-6 win over the Blue Devils.

N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack surprised his team with two wrestling belts (think the WWE Attitude era-style belts held by superstars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin) before the Eagles’ game against South Carolina State on Sept. 21. One belt was presented after the game to the special teams player of the week.

The other, the “Takeaway” belt, was given to a player who forced a turnover. So far, that one has been hard to take away from junior safety Davanta Reynolds. Reynolds returned a fumble 85 yards for a score against South Carolina State. The next week at Florida A&M, Reynolds picked off a pass and ran 31 yards for a touchdown. Reynolds intercepted a pass this past weekend during the Eagles 13-7 win over Howard.

N.C. Central junior safety Davanta Reynolds shows off the take away belt after returning a fumble 85-yards for a touchdown against South Carolina State. NCCU Athletics

“He’s the champ and just like when you’re the champ you want to try and hold on to it, so I’m sure he’ll be gunning to get another one this week,” Mack said.

The fourth-year coach said as long as guys keep making plays and looking forward to that reward on the sidelines, he’ll stick with it.

Looking for “any kind of edge to motivate players,” Eagles’ special teams coach Chris Schultz came up with and designed the belt idea. Mack said the belts are a good way to create energy for his players, and sometimes, the coaches. After Reynolds made an interception against the Rattlers, N.C. Central defensive coordinator Granville Eastman grabbed the belt from Reynolds and held it over his head with both hands, proudly displaying the strap as if he had picked off the pass himself.

“That’s what it’s all about, everybody understanding what it takes to be successful,” Mack said. “Whether it’s coaches or trainers, everyone understands the importance of turnovers and special teams play.”

Not everyone is getting in on the prop action, though. Duke, UNC and N.C. State don’t use them. According to an N.C. State football spokesperson, all the Wolfpack uses “is high fives and pats on the back.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV