The handwritten pieces of paper are not your traditional love letter, but to a multigenerational coach like Al Fracassa, they certainly touch the heart.
Starting his 44th season coaching at Birmingham Brother Rice, Fracassa -- as he has for several decades before -- wrote an individualized letter to each returning player, sharing words of wisdom and what he likes about them as young men.
"This year, for the first time, I asked them to write me one, too," Fracassa said at the conclusion of Monday's official start of football practice. "I have about 50 to read, and they've been telling me the good things they've learned, the life lessons from the football field. So when I read them, I can see that I'm doing some good for the youth."
Many fans would measure the good things in eight state titles, starting with the 1974 "mythical state championship" and capped by last year's Division 2 crown. Yet in all the storied tradition of Rice football, the program has never repeated with a state title the following season. Monday's practice was the first step in trying to change that trend in what many people think could be Fracassa's last season.
"We can't base everything off the fact we won last year," said senior defensive end Sergio Perkovic. "We're not the same team, it's not any guarantee that the state championship is ours. We have to put in the hard work, and work for it."
Rice went 5-4 in the regular season last year, winning in the final week to squeeze in enough points to be invited to the playoffs. The fifth victory was Fracassa's milestone 400th win.
"We obviously want to do a lot better in the regular season," senior lineman Griffin Anderson said. "We ended the season nicely last year, but we didn't start it that way. This year we expect to win more games in the regular season so we don't have to worry about that at the end."
One of the Rice players jogged across the field after practice to hand Fracassa, 70, a white envelope. A few minutes later, the veteran coach slid a weathered finger under the flap and slipped it open. The first line of the last paragraph read: "Outside my family, you have been the greatest example of excellence in my life."
Very few would argue against that.