Vicious, violent, and relentless. There are no better words to describe the Arkadelphia Badger’s head football coach, J.R. Eldridge. In fact, he’s employed the acronym “VVR” for not only his football team but also his life.
“VVR is how we run our program,” said Eldridge, the 2017 4A state championship-winning football coach. “I want our players to attack their responsibilities with excessive force, and do it over and over again. In other words, attack the day viciously, attack it violently, and keep on doing so, relentlessly.”
Eldridge was the defensive coordinator at OBU when I played for the Tigers. While I was playing in Sweden, J.R. became the head coach at Arkadelphia High. When I got back, he offered me a job as his offensive coordinator.
Between my time spent playing for Coach Eldridge and working for him, I had a front-row seat to the hardcore details of VVR. Little did I know, J.R.’s football philosophy was already taking shape back when he’d first started to play school ball for the Fayetteville Bulldogs.
“I was in 7th grade, playing up with the junior high team,” Eldridge said, recalling his first full-contact practice. “I sprained my ankle and was sitting on the sideline. But my coach, Wendell Harris, came over and told me if I didn’t get up and try to play, I’d stay on the sideline.”
Thus, Eldridge learned the value of playing through pain at an early age.
“I needed to hear that from a coach. I needed to realize that football—like life—wasn’t something you sat on the sideline for.”
Eldridge would continue to battle injuries throughout his career. In high school, he broke his ankle in consecutive seasons. In college, he suffered a rare vertebrae injury that caused prolonged headaches and vomiting after games. The only remedy was doctor-mandated “down time.” As a result, J.R. was forced to lie flat on his back for 72 straight hours.
“It was miserable,” Eldridge said. “All I could do was lay there and think. It was the sort of injury where I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t play through it.”
As a coach and a father of three football-loving boys, J.R. has learned the distinction between injuries you can “tough out” and injuries you can’t.
“Players and parents should be aggressive with things that don’t involve a head injury. Sprained ankles, broken hands, be really aggressive. If there is a possibility for you to play, then try it,” Eldridge said. “Everyone’s pain tolerance is different. But if kids are never told to push themselves, they’ll never know.”
When he’s thinking about the possibility of injury, J.R.’s mind is on not only his players but also his sons: Jack, Max, and Trip Eldridge.
“It’s never really entered my mind, as far as my boys not playing football,” Eldridge said. “The benefits outweigh the risks. With anything you do on a daily basis, you run a risk. I mean it’s no secret—that’s why there’s a warning label on the helmet.”
At this point in our conversation, I asked J.R. to define the benefits of football. I expected him to turn the question around on me, state the obvious, like the fact that football paid for my college education and afforded me a jumpstart to my career in education. But he didn’t. Instead, he said something that’s stuck with me.
“The cost of playing football is the benefit,” Eldridge said. “I was 5’8” 185 pounds. I never had any pipedreams. I just wanted to play. There was no gold or some big money contract waiting at the end of my career. The cost, the pain, the grind, that’s what I got out of football. Nothing great has ever been achieved without great risk.”
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