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Top High School Football Coaches Share Tips, Advice

By Sean Jensen, SportsEngine, 01/04/19, 11:45PM CST

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Former All-American Bowl head coaches offer wisdom

“The big thing is, be a great teammate. On our first day, we say character counts, and be a great teammate at all times."


West team wide receivers Ykili Ross (87) and Derrick Dillon (84) celebrate a Dillon touchdown during the 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Getty Images


Doug Berman

Doug Berman marvels at the growth of the All-American Bowl under his leadership over the last two decades.

The event’s co-founder is proud that the game is evolved from modest beginnings —  there were just 1,500 fans at the inaugural bowl — to one that consistently packs over 40,000 into the Alamodome and still shines with strong partnerships and social media integrations amid a competitive all-star landscape.

“This game started before the smartphone,” Berman says. “There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and kids didn’t have personal brands.”

Yet one thing Berman never wanted to change was the significance of the game’s coaches from the high school ranks.

“We didn’t want ‘honorary coaches,’ ” Berman says. “We wanted this to be a celebration of high school football, and we wanted to reward high school coaches who have given their lives to help develop kids in the game.”

Bill Kramer took over as head football coach at Naples High School in 1998. He built a program that won two state titles but, more importantly, developed hundreds of young men by focusing on faith and family.

“It was an incredible honor,” Kramer says of being an All-American Bowl head coach. “I made lifelong friendships and there’s a fraternity of All-American Bowl coaches.”

Here are top tips from All-American Bowl head coaches:

Jim Benkert

Led Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, California, to 257 victories and five Southern Section Championships and the school’s first CIF-Southern Section championship. Now the Head Football Coach at Simi Valley (California) High School.

“Find something to do year-round that would allow you to compete, whether it’s in football or basketball or any other sport. I think it’s important for kids to learn how to compete. Get away from the computer and away from the social media stuff and get out there and play. If they’re not into another sport, it’s important for them to compete. Go to the gym and just play pickup.”

Chad Grier

Played at the University of Richmond and East Carolina University. Developed the football program at Davidson Day in North Carolina, leading it to four Independent School state titles and a 57-6 overall record.

“Be a master of your craft. Football is not just about lining up and running into people, or running fast or jumping high. The reality is, it’s a technique game. Talent and technique beats talent alone.”

Steve Leisz

Record of 97-34-1 as Head Football Coach at Episcopal High School in Bellaire, Texas, leading the team to three state titles and four runner-up finishes. Inductee in the Texas High School Hall of Fame.

“Every day that we talk with the kids, we remind them that they’re at this school for academics and that football is a tool. Everything is through academics. Football is that tool. Don’t ever give up that tool. Do everything you can to be successful. The harder you put in, the harder you get out of it. That works in the books and on the field. It goes hand-in-hand. It’s takes a lot of work. You don’t just wake up and make the All-American Bowl. If you lose a minute, you’re not getting it back.”

Mike Kirschner

High school football coach for 35 years, leading Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, to two state titles as Head Football Coach. He was also named the Indianapolis Colts Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2017, and he was a MaxPreps finalist for National Coach of the Year.

“Enjoy the moments you get to play. It’s so fleeting. We act like we’re going to play forever — we all wish we could. Make time to enjoy it. Even as a coach, sometimes I forget that. I’ve coached in big games, and you always work toward the next one. It’s not the game, it’s the people.”

ALL-AMERICAN BOWL

WHAT: High school football all-star game
WHEN: Saturday, January 5, 2019
WHERE: San Antonio, Texas 
TV COVERAGE: 1 p.m. EST – Live on NBC
WEBSITE: allamericangames.com/bowl
GET TICKETS: FREE

Half Time Show Presented By SportsEngine

The West Austin Youth Association (WAYA) will play a flag football game featuring boys 10 and under. Highlights to be broadcast during the third quarter during the NBC telecast.

Bill Kramer

Compiled a record of 206-50 at Naples High School in Naples, Florida, leading the program to two state championships and 15 district titles. Inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2017.

“I’d encourage them to be a superstar, and our definition is someone who makes others better, whether it’s your teammates or it’s your family. The focus is off of yourself and on others. How can you encourage and inspire the people around you? That’s what makes a superstar. That comes down to work ethic and integrity. Are you a fountain or a drain? Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking more of others. It can be on the field. Be the first guy on the field, and help the guy who struggled the day before, and work with him. Don’t be the last guy out of the locker room. The guys that play in these types of games are genetically gifted. There’s no doubt. But that’s just one small part of what’s going to make them successful down the road.”

Jason Mohns

Compiled a 61-7 record as the Head Football Coach at Saguaro High in Scottsdale, Arizona, leading the program to six consecutive state titles. He was named the 2018 MaxPreps Heart and Soul winner.

“It’s not just being a football player. Be the total package. Do the right things in the community. Handle things in the classroom. Conduct yourself with character. Just because you’re talented and have scholarship offers doesn’t mean you’ve arrived. Be an All-American in everything you do. Always put your best foot forward. That would be the challenge. Be an All-American in every aspect of your life.”

Lance Pogue

Compiled 210-57 record as Head Football Coach at South Panola High School in Batesville, Mississippi, leading the team to five state titles and a mythical 2010 National Championship, according to USA Today, Rivals and MaxPreps.

“In the society we live in today, everybody wants to coach. You got all these forums. My advice is, listen to your coaches and let them coach. Don’t get caught up in all the fanfare. Specifically, in recruiting, you have two groups of people involved. You got the high school coach, the college coach recruiting the kid and the student-athlete and the student-athlete’s parents. It should stay in that circle. But what you get are people on the outside who, in their mind, have expert advice. Sometimes, you get too many people involved.”

Don Smolyn

Head Football Coach at Lenape Valley High School in Stanhope, New Jersey, he’s the winningest active football coach in New Jersey with a record of 332-135, including seven state titles. He was inducted into the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

“The big thing is, be a great teammate. On our first day, we say character counts, and be a great teammate at all times. These kids know when something is wrong with one of their teammates. They know before I do. Whether it’s off the field issues, family issues or on the field.”

About Sean Jensen

Sean Jensen was born in South Korea, but he was raised in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, mostly on or near military bases. Given his unique background, he's always been drawn to storytelling, a skill he developed at Northwestern University and crafted for the last 16 years, almost exclusively covering the NFL. Sean lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife, two children and dog. Read more

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