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Publish Date: 6/24/2007

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Lonnie Labriola started a company in 2002 called Backyard Drills LLC. The company’s first product is a high-production DVD designed for parents to be able to teach their sons football drills, as well as life lessons such as courage, commitment and teamwork. Times-Call/Joshua Buck

Making ‘character’ cool
Backyard Drills promotes parallels between football and life

 

 LONGMONT — It’s taken discipline, character and perseverance for Lonnie Labriola to finally get his company’s first product to market. Ironically, those are the qualities his company teaches in its instructional DVDs.

“Backyard Drills — Football Edition” is a 61/2-hour, two-DVD set that is finally on the market after five years of struggle. The DVD set is geared toward parents who want to teach their kids the fundamentals of football — and life.

The father of three and veteran businessman got the idea for his company in the summer of 2001, when his son, now 17, announced that he would like to become a running back.

“I started looking around for material that I could use to coach him,” Labriola said. “Nothing fancy, nothing that would show me how to coach a whole team or anything, just something basic that would show me how to teach the fundamentals.”

Finding nothing he liked, Labriola saw an opportunity to not only produce a video teaching football skills, but also to positively influence kids in an age of violent video games, MTV and gangsta culture.

As he looked into it, “I started finding parallels between good team dynamics and good societal dynamics,” he said.

By December 2001, Labriola committed to starting his company, Backyard Drills. He put together a business plan and began thinking about who he could bring in to help with the project. He realized he would need big names to give his project credibility.

A friend of Labriola’s in Florida had another friend who had a business relationship with Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the New York Giants. When Labriola told the friend of a friend about his idea for Backyard Drills, the man said he might be able to put Labriola in touch with Parcells.

The coach was about to start a new job that summer of 2002, coaching the Dallas Cowboys.

Labriola had heard Parcells has a reputation as something of a hothead, but as he read the books Parcells had written, he realized he had found “the right messenger for the message.”

“I went trembling and shaking to Cowboy headquarters in Irving, Texas,” Labriola recalled. “He was going to give me 20 minutes.”

When Parcells found out Labriola was a native of Passaic, N.J., the state where The Big Tuna coached when he won his Super Bowl rings, the two hit it off immediately. They talked for an hour and a half, and Parcells agreed to participate.

Parcells bought heavily into Labriola’s message that Backyard Drills was going to be as much about life fundamentals as football fundamentals.

“What people don’t give him credit for is he turned down some plum coaching jobs when he was younger because he didn’t want to move his family,” Labriola said.

Parcells cut a promotional piece for Labriola and, by building contacts with companies that in turn had contacts within Athletes in Action, a Christian sports ministry geared toward youth, Labriola started soliciting players he hoped would buy into the Backyard Drills message.

By 2004, a roster of NFL veterans agreed to participate, including Emmitt Smith, Mike Singletary, Anthony Munoz, Tim Brown and Daryl “Moose” Johnston.

“If these players weren’t passionate about this message, if they didn’t believe in what we were talking about, then we didn’t want them — we didn’t care who they were,” Labriola said.

Filming took place around the country, with the athletes both demonstrating the fundamentals of their respective positions and sharing character lessons.

The DVDs close with a segment called “Parcells’ Chalk Talk,” where the now-retired coach reinforces the parallels between football and life.

For example, Parcells talks about courage, character and discipline and why they matter both on and off the field.

“When the bridge of respect is established, you can work together and talk through any problem,” Parcells says in one segment.

All along, Labriola said, he knew he needed high-quality production on the DVDs to draw and hold kids’ attention. They had to look as slick as anything they would see on ESPN or in a video game.

The first production company he hired didn’t hit that mark, Labriola said. Neither did the second.

In the summer of 2005, Labriola took the hundreds of hours of tape of Parcells and the athletes and brought the production in-house.

“We took everything apart and redid the entire DVD, after it had already been finished two separate times,” Labriola said. “We’ve got to make the story of ‘character’ a fun, exciting and compelling story.”

During the remake of the DVD, Labriola even moved to a hotel in south Denver for a couple of months to be closer to the editing company he used.

It was a trying time, he remembers, both for his family and his finances. On top of that, legal issues with certain players came up. Some athletes he thought he had cleared to use backed out.

All through this period, Labriola would hear from either Parcells or his agent every few months, asking how things were going.

Ever the coach, Parcells encouraged Labriola to follow through on his dream. Finally, late last year, Labriola released the redone “Backyard Drills — Football Edition,” selling the DVDs to a Florida direct marketing company that bought the product from him and used a TV infomercial to sell it.

The infomercial sold $1.5 million worth — 20,000 DVDs at $150 each — in the first three months. Unfortunately, because that company had taken the risk in buying the DVDs in the first place, most of the profit went to the company, not to Backyard Drills.

By the time Labriola was able to fund the release of more DVDs, he had missed the 2005 Christmas shopping season.

All of this made his investors edgy, but the early sales proved that the demand for “Backyard Drills” is there.

Marketing is in full swing now, Labriola said. He’s selling DVDs on the Internet, and kids around the country are selling them through Pop Warner football leagues.

Pop Warner kids sell them to parents and coaches at a discount, for about $100 each, and 40 percent of the proceeds go to the youth football program in the local community.

Recently, Backyard Drills donated $75,000 worth of the DVDs to Pop Warner’s Little Scholars program, the league’s scholastic All-American team.

“Backyard Drills shares with Pop Warner a vision that youth football should extend beyond the playing field,” said Jon Butler, CEO of Pop Warner, in a statement.

The football edition of “Backyard Drills” is only the beginning. Labriola is planning DVDs on a variety of sports and activities that can bring kids and parents together.

The No. 1 request he gets is for a soccer edition. He’s already making contacts for that video, he said.

Lacrosse, hiking, fishing and camping DVDs also are planned, he said, and there will even be one on cheerleading, which also has been highly requested.

“Now that we’ve already figured out all the wrong ways to do it, it won’t take any time for us to put one together the right way,” Labriola said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.

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