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MIHS football coach discusses components of winning seasons
In a recent interview, MIHS Head Football Coach Brett Ogata discussed his coaching philosophy, stating that parental involvement and strong leadership qualities are crucial to the program’s success.
The team began the fall season with practice on Aug. 15 and will play the first game of the season on Aug. 31 against Redmond.
A lot of eyes are on Mercer Island this year, to see if “the team that built Jeff Lindquist – now a freshman at the University of Washington – can find success without the star quarterback.
The kids are hungry to prove that they are one of the state’s premier football programs, not just the team that Jeff Lindquist played on. I think that's what motivates our guys this year: Number 1, they want to prove to the world that we really are a good program and are exciting to watch; and 2, they had a taste of what playoff football is about, and they are highly motivated to taste that again.
How do you reply to the “one-man-team” claims?
Having Jeff really helped elevate the profile of the school. But winning helped a lot, too. We were 8 -3 last year and made the first round of the playoffs. That’s our best finish since 2000. We were still a really good team with our defense and special teams, and Jeff didn’t play on either of those.
I was really proud of [last season’s entire] senior group, to see them come together, grow together and to achieve great things as a unit. They broke a lot of barriers as a team and set a platform for the future. They were really fun to coach and made my job easy.
What have you done to ensure that this season’s seniors or captains will be strong leaders, too?
What I love about high school football is that I have a new group of kids every fall; a new dynamic; a new set of leaders.
We have six captains and they have done a great job showing leadership already. Sean Pyne, Brian Higgins, Brian Rauzi, Matt Hassall, Alex Emanuels and Risley Lesko, They’ve been taking an unofficial leadership class with me; I taught them how to be leaders and captains. Last winter and spring, they met every other Sunday – for a total of 10 sessions – where we talked about leadership, made sure they knew what was going on with the program and how they could help. With these guys in leadership positions, we are going in the right direction for this season.
What are other keys to building a strong program? Yes, you get a new group every year, but how do you provide continuity when a strong class graduates and a new group enters high school?
One thing that is helping our success is the continuity. The freshmen are learning the same game of football, having fun with the game of football and learning to buy into the program. That first year, I want them to know that once they buy into the program, we can do great things. That’s when we can motivate them to want to achieve.
It is important that the freshmen bond as a class because in four years, they will be our seniors and our leaders. I want them to learn as freshmen that when we score a touchdown, its 11 guys that scored the touchdown together. It’s the greatest team sport.
It seems support for the team seems to be building in the school, the football community and Mercer Island in general. To what do you attribute that change?
[Winning helps, and so does spreading a positive message about what the team is doing. Last year, I had lots of conversations with fellow MIHS teachers and merchants around the island about how the team was doing. It seemed they had a vested interested in the team, and that showed attendance at the games. We have tried to make it a “Friday Night Lights” event for students, teachers, players, parents and community members.
Support for the spring auction seems strong; for the past few years, funds have been raised for new helmets, equipment and team-building experiences. How do you build such strong support among parents?
My philosophy is different from other coaches’. A lot of other coaches try to keep the parents on one side and the coaches on the other, and the players in the middle, with all three entities separate. My philosophy is to bring all three together because we all want what’s best for the individual players.
It’s important to educate parents on why we do what we do so they understand what we are doing and can help support that. Some of the ways we reach out to parents are through the booster club; social gatherings such as after-game parties, which are open to parents of players of all ages, not just varsity; events including the Fall Kickoff BBQ and a spring BBQ for incoming freshmen; Grid-Iron Mom Football 101 sessions; and a Mom’s Night Out party during the summer.
I want parents to feel valued and to feel a part of the program. It’s a special four years where the parent can share something with a son. It’s a big commitment, but when it’s fun, it doesn’t seem like as much work. It should be as much fun for the parents as it is for the players.