During the season the players have one day off a week, which is one more than Curry and his staff have. Practices sometimes last four hours. Offensive skill players, who are introduced to Curry's complex system as seventh-graders, are expected to remember more than 30 formations without the aid of a playbook.
Somehow they absorb all of it because, well, as Powlus says, "Coach demands it." And meeting his demands brings rewards. Berwick has won 12 championships on different levels in the last 15 years, including a state championship in 1988 and a mythical national championship, bestowed by USA Today, in 1983. In the early 1980s the Dawgs ripped off a 47-game winning streak.
And like any successful operation, Berwick football operates in the black. "Heck, we saved this town $500,000 by building the new football field house ourselves, and all of the money was donated," Curry says of the generosity on the part of Berwick alumni. "Not to count the millions of dollars we save our kids' families through scholarships."
Curry, who doubles as Berwick's guidance counselor, is smart enough to know that not every teenager is a Ron Powlus who will soon entertain scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Michigan and Penn State. "Look at this," Curry says to a visitor, pulling out a roster of names and positions. "Eddie Carter, he's a dentist. Larry Pruitt [Jon's brother] fought in the gulf war; he's an Army major now."
That's right, Curry charts every one of his former players' work positions, and you won't find any of them wasting—or doing—time. Over the years Curry has found dozens of jobs and more than $5 million in scholarship money for his athletes. "Football is going to do for my players more than they can ever do for me," he says.
According to Curry, Powlus is the "nicest kid you'd ever want to meet, a prototype Berwick Bulldog." And modest. If you rely on Powlus for a biographical sketch, you're not likely to find out that he has thrown for 6,000 yards in his high school career or that he has a 93% academic average in school. Or that as a sophomore in 1990, starting in his first high school game, he had to withstand the pressure of playing before 40,000 people in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium; his team ranked No. 1 in the nation then also.
Powlus's parents, Ron Sr., a high school P.E. teacher at Northwest High in nearby Shickshinny, and Susan, Berwick High's switchboard operator, like to tell about an incident that occurred during their son's vacation in Ocean City, Md., last summer. Ron was walking on the beach with a friend who was wearing a Berwick Football T-shirt. A teen confronted the friend, asking him if he knew Ron Powlus, because he had intercepted one of his passes. Powlus would have been content to get away with "Oh. Good for you," but his friend spilled the beans.
Of course, sometimes Powlus does have to assert himself. Earlier this season, for instance, the Dawgs found themselves in the unfamiliar position of clinging to a 7-6 lead on their own field as the fourth quarter began. Apparently no one had told the opponent, Hazleton (Pa.), just how good Berwick was. With 11:49 remaining, Powlus—who in the first half had fired a 34-yard TD strike to flanker Dante Pecorelli—took matters into his own hands. Literally. The play was a rollout left QB keeper, and Powlus, who can motor, was already turning upfield when he heard the defense's cries of "Pass!" Sixty-one yards later, he politely tossed the ball to the ref and lined up to kick the point after. Berwick won 14-6.
There may well be a high school football team better than the one Curry has assembled this fall. There may be a coach more astute than Curry, perhaps even a quarterback more promising than Powlus. But nowhere, surely, is there a town where football means more to the community than it does to Berwick. "Berwick and football have this love affair," says Curry. "If you're going to play, coach or watch football, this is the town to do it in."