Dolphins players and coaches and Pro Football Hall of Famers tip their cap to high school coaches for the impact made on their lives.

DAVIE — As Brian Flores was making the transition from assistant coach on the New England Patriots’ staff to Dolphins head coach, he faced a natural line of questions on how he climbed the ladder.

Flores had spent 15 years working under the most successful Super Bowl coach in NFL history, so a tip of the cap to Bill Belichick was a foregone conclusion. While it wasn’t surprising that Flores also credited his high school coach, Dino Mangiero, the manner in which he did so was.

“He’s like a father figure to me,” Flores said. “He’s somebody I talk to on a weekly basis. I don’t make any decisions without having a conversation with him first.”

Flores won’t need a phone this weekend to have such a conversation. For the second consecutive weekend, Flores is back in the region where he grew up, this time to face the Giants in the New Jersey Meadowlands, not far from Brooklyn, where Flores played under Mangiero at Poly Prep Country Day.

“He’s impacted a lot of young men and I think you learn a lot about life playing football,” Flores said. “I’ve told a lot of people this: Everything I learned to be successful in life I learned in those meeting rooms and on that practice field in Brooklyn and from him: hard work, great effort, compete, preparation, being on time and then overall just doing things the right way.”

Sentimentality is a word rarely associated with the NFL, but on the subject of high school football coaches, exceptions are made. Not just by Flores, but by players in his locker room who might not be where they are if not for coaches who planted that seed.

Years have gone by.

Players have raked in millions.

But these players haven’t forgotten where they came from.

“They were the foundation of who I am today,” linebacker Raekwon McMillan said of the coaching staff at Liberty County High in Hinesville, Ga. “Tony Glazer and Derek Sills and Ryan Glazer were the first ones to ever tell me I could be a linebacker in the NFL one day. When you’re growing up like I did, you don’t really know. It’s either stay home in the same area or go to the military. I was thinking I’m going into the military.”

Receiver Albert Wilson grew up in foster care and attended Port St. Lucie High, where he met coach Hilary Poole.

“Shoot. Everything,” Wilson said when asked what Poole did for him. “My pops wasn’t pretty much in the picture. He (Poole) coached me in high school, football and track. He was just like that father figure that a lot of guys needed around our area. Anything that we needed, from the time I met him till today, he’ll do for me.”

Those sentiments extend to the highest echelon of the sport. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, said Wayne Reese, his coach at George Washington Carver High in New Orleans, was the first to tell him “I could actually be something, that this game can take you somewhere. That advice did everything for me.”

Five members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in fact, chose their high school coaches to present them for enshrinement.

“I was absolutely shocked,” said Steve Parker, who presented Pittsburgh Steelers center Dermontti Dawson in 2012.

Dawson might not be in the Hall of Fame without Parker because he may never have even played football without Parker. Dawson was dreaming of becoming a shot putter and discus thrower in the Olympics.

“Sir, can I help you?” Those were Parker’s first words to Dawson when he saw him in the hallway of Bryan Station High in Lexington, Ky.

“I thought he was a man,” Parker recalled. When Dawson told him he was a sophomore, Parker shot back, “Where have you been all my life?”

Today, Parker is associate dean and associate professor at the University of Kentucky, where some of his students plan to become college coaches.

“I tell them they owe me nothing, that they should pass it along to the next person,” Parker said. “That is what’s so great about it. When you’re in this position, you have a lot of responsibility to help mold these young people in ways other than sports. You’re there to teach them about being a man, taking responsibility, all those things.”

Wilson said Poole “put it in my brain” that if he worked hard, he could make it in this sport. In actuality, they made each other better. Poole, now principal at Stone Magnet Middle School in Melbourne, called Wilson’s spirit “contagious” to the point that Wilson pushed him to become a better coach.

“Definitely humbled,” Poole said when informed that Wilson feels his coach did “everything” for him. “You just try your best to of course to win football games, but that’s not what it’s all about. You just try your best to strengthen people. They say iron sharpens iron. One man sharpens another.”

As for the notion that Flores still confers with his high school coach?

“It’s totally familiar to me,” Poole said. “I actually am still in touch with my high school coach, as crazy as that sounds. I was fortunate enough to be around a group of really good people. I was able to have some good experiences as a high school player. I kind of took that as my primary responsibility, as my job, to provide a similar experience to those athletes that I had a chance to be around. You pay it forward.”

Jerome Baker is in only his second season as a Dolphins linebacker but already is a team captain. It wasn’t always that way. Baker admitted he wasn’t much of a student until coach Joe Schaefer sat him down at Cleveland’s Benedictine High, alma mater of Chuck Noll.

“You need school to play,” Baker said, reciting what Schaefer told him. “I wasn’t trying to hear that but he really broke it down for me.”

Players say their high school careers marked the last time they looked at the sport so innocently.

“It’s just pure football and the business side is out of it,” Baker said. Acknowledging that nobody gets rich coaching high school football, Baker added, “That’s why I appreciate it the most — the amount of time he put in, the paycheck he was getting wasn’t worth it.”

Here’s what makes it worth it: “My high school coaches, they are, in my eyes, the best coaches who ever lived,” Baker said.

Walt Aikens, another Dolphins captain, played at Harding University High in Charlotte under coach Johnathan Fay, who texts him on game days with inspirational messages or to say he’s praying for Aikens.

“The crazy thing is, it’s an all-black high school, a majority-black high school, and he was my only white coach,” Aikens said.

Aikens recently made a gesture that would have been unthinkable years ago. When his mother informed him that his rival high school, Phillip O. Berry Academy, was in need, Aikens sent that school a check for an undisclosed amount.

“They didn’t have enough helmets for all the kids to stay on the team and the coach was trying to keep all the kids,” Aikens said. “He was going to have to make cuts, but he didn’t want them to have to resort to the streets, because Charlotte — you can get caught up out there. That was one of my rivals, so you’ve got to make sure they’re straight, too.”

John Carney and Craig Erickson played at Cardinal Newman High, where legendary coach Sam Budnyk told them, “You get to the Super Bowl, I want a sideline pass. I don’t want to see the game, I want to hear it.”

Carney and the San Diego Chargers reached the 1995 Super Bowl in Miami. Carney came through for Budnyk.

As for Flores, Mangiero remembers him as a 13-year-old, “bright-eyed, very hungry and very humble” prodigy who was “by far the best kid in his league.” When Flores was considering accepting the Dolphins’ job, he naturally consulted with Mangiero, who encouraged the move, explaining that the Patriots’ “days are numbered” and AFC East supremacy eventually would be there for the taking.

Although Flores has one of 32 coveted jobs in football, his respect for high school coaches hasn’t wavered.

”I think that time — (age) 14 to, let’s call it 18 — mentally, physically, emotionally, kids are going through those adolescent years and trying to find themselves as men,” Flores said. “They’re right in that maturing process. That mentorship, that leadership, the impact that’s made in that time, I think it goes a long way to shaping a young mind and that’s why I have so much respect for high school coaches in all sports — football, baseball, basketball, soccer, men’s sports, women’s sports — all of it.

“They have such an impact that’s made, and it’s something that, the lessons that I learned and kids learn on the high school level, I think they take with them really throughout their lives. I think they get shaped in a way that is positive, and that’s always a good thing.”

hhabib@pbpost.com

@gunnerhal

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