Mercer Island Football: Ogata’s task is to change culture

Brett Ogata. - Chad Coleman / Mercer Island Reporter
Brett Ogata.
— image credit: Chad Coleman / Mercer Island Reporter

The 15 applications for the Mercer Island High School head football coaching position came from as far away as North Carolina, Alabama, Ohio and California. Ultimately, the Islanders went with a person who has been on Mercer Island during the majority of his life, Mercer Island High School math teacher Brett Ogata.

“I played and grew up here,” said Ogata. “I have spent all my life on the Island. I think that does give me an advantage.”

Ogata has also been an assistant coach at Mercer Island with the boys basketball team and tennis, and an assistant with the football team. During that time, he has learned from three of the most successful coaches in Washington state history: Ed Pepple, Joyce Hedlund and Dick Nicholl. Ogata spent the last two years as the quarterback’s coach at Skyline High School, where the team won two state titles.

“I think the biggest difference [between the Mercer Island and Skyline football programs] is a winning attitude,” said Ogata, who spent six years as an assistant to Nicholl. “They expect a certain level of performance, and they have a tradition of winning.”

The move to Skyline was not easy for the lifelong Islander, and it came after the first time that Ogata applied for the head coaching position at Mercer Island.

“It really didn’t bother me [not to get the job],” said Ogata, who will be giving up his position as junior varsity boys basketball coach. “I love basketball, too. So it was a win-win. I got to learn a lot from coach Gervais at Skyline.”

Ogata also took a different approach this time around.

“I was kind of hands-off with this process,” said Ogata. “I was confident in what I had to offer.”

Mercer Island Athletic Director Craig Olson said that one of Ogata’s biggest attributes was his teaching position at the high school. Many other applicants needed a teaching position to go along with the coaching job. Another was Ogata’s experience at Skyline: “I felt he needed to get a different perspective. At Skyline, he got to see how a real effective program is run, and I think it is do-able here.”

Ogata said that one big difference between Skyline and Mercer Island is the youth programs. Skyline has 21 youth programs to pull from, while Mercer Island has one. The Issaquah area does not have the boundaries that Mercer Island has with Lake Washington, a fact that Ogata said is not all bad. He explained that while Mercer Island might not have all the space for several teams, he will know what he has to work with.

Ogata said that there are a lot of comparisons between Skyline football and Mercer Island basketball, and the biggest is that they both have great youth programs.

“Coach Pepple has a lot of his former alumni come back and coach, just like at Skyline,” said the new coach. “I want the players to have a sense of a good past, and I want the alumni to be a part of this.”

Ogata’s background as a 1989 MIHS graduate, playing and coaching for the Islanders and teaching at the high school, gives him much more of an edge over nearly any other candidate for the job.

“I will be able to built a relationship with the community and players every day,” said Ogata. “I grew up here, so I know what they are going through.”

Ogata played football, basketball and baseball on Mercer Island, but his love was football. The new coach played wide receiver and eventually went on to play at Santa Clara University in California.

After graduating in 1993, Ogata coached at Lincoln High School in California for six years as an assistant and quarterback’s coach before moving back home to the Island.

While at Skyline, Ogata got to coach one of the most coveted quarterbacks in the state, Skyline junior Jake Heaps.

That relationship will be talked about, as Mercer Island freshman Jeff Lindquist started most of the team’s games this season and even set some school records.

“I haven’t seen him play, but I saw him throw in the gym,” said Ogata. “He is on the basketball team, too.”

While the Islanders will get a bit of their past back in Ogata, the new coach intends to bring the winning ways of Skyline to the Island.

“I am not going to lie; I will use the Skyline model,” said Ogata. “But the first thing is to create a new attitude, a winning attitude.”

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