BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - Al Fracassa emerged in front of his Brother Rice team like he does every August, carrying a fresh black notebook.
He has written notes in one just like it for 54 seasons, but this tiny bound book will be the last one he fills.
Monday morning, Fracassa walked onto the field named in his honor. In a season of last's, this is the first.
The last first day.
"It was good. I'm happy," he says with a smile.
The 80-year old coach has earned the right to enjoy the day. The winningest coach in Michigan high school football history has earned the right to bask in the spotlight of every day this fall, because this is it.
It's his final season.
And yet, to the surprise of not a single person who knows him, he won't allow the day to be any different than the one before.
"It's the same. It's always the same. I'm happy I'm here and we'll see what happens," he explains.
The conditioning? It's the same. Green Bay's, or 100-yard sprints on Monday's, four full-speed laps on Tuesday's, and gassers across the width of the field on Wednesday's.
The play-calling? It's the same.
Well, almost the same.
"Offense, we have a few wrinkles. They're a little different sometimes. Kids like to work on the trick plays every once in a while," he says with a smirk.
Last season, the Warriors won their second straight state championship thanks to a gutsy fourth quarter call that broke a 28-28 tie with Muskegon, and was ultimately the deciding score.
The reverse kickoff call, Fracassa remembers, was enough to make his trademark white hairs fall out.
"You know what? That whole week, it never worked. I said 'I don't know, maybe we're not going to be able to run this play.' And when they told me, 'Coach, let's try it, we've got nothing to lose,' I said okay," he recalls.
Fracassa proceeded to say an 'Our Father' and a 'Hail Mary.'
"Then it worked."
The chance to go out on top with a three-peat is real. Many of last year's starters are gone, but what remains on Lahser Road is a steady constant.
Each of the 54 notebooks are different. Each of the 54 teams were unique. One thing has always been the same.
"I thank the Lord that I'm still able to do it," Fracassa says with a wink.
And then he heads to coach his players. That's it for the day's brief trip down Memory Lane.
It's time to get back to work.
Brad Galli is a Sports Reporter for WXYZ Detroit. Follow Brad on Twitter @BradGalli
Throughout the 2013 high school football season, Brad will be documenting the final days of Al Fracassa on the Brother Rice sideline. Visit WXYZ.com for news, stories, and videos from the season.
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