Junior High coach excited to build a new program
There is plenty of excitement involved with the Baldwin Junior High School football program, which will take to the field for the first time ever this fall.
Players, parents, administrators, coaches and everyone else associated with the endeavor have been looking forward to it for a long time. But, there's one person on top of that wave new head coach Nick Harris.
"I know everyone is excited about junior high football, but nobody is as excited as I am," said Harris.
He should know, too, since he's been coaching football for 20 years. Eleven of those years were at the high school level where he was part of a state championship team at Olathe North. Two years were at Baker University where he was a part of a national championship team. Then there are seven years as a junior high coach, most recently last year at McClouth.
But, there's something different here in Baldwin. This is a new program. That doesn't happen very often when it comes to football. Starting a new program is a dream come true for him, but it's not all roses.
"It's a coach's dream and a coach's nightmare," said Harris. "It's fortunate that I've coached Mike (Berg, Baldwin High School head football coach). We get along very well. We've talked about a lot of things and we both want the same thing.
"It's exciting for the fact that it's the first. Everything we do will be the first," he said. "It's scary because we're a new coaching staff. We met each other two nights before the first day of football camp."
The camp gave Harris and assistant coaches Chad Scoby, Dennis Mills and Dale Wieden their first look at what seventh and eighth grade players they will have for the inaugural season. They liked what they saw, but know there's work to be done with around 70 players most with little or no football experience.
"After my first week seeing the kids, the enthusiasm is what I liked best," said Harris. "I like to use the saying I could see the light bulb going on. They were starting to understand.
"We've got a long way to go. One of the biggest things will be when we put pads on," he said. "I couldn't be more excited about the coaching staff. I look for one thing in coaches and that's if they can get along well with the kids at this level. These guys can."
There will be rough spots along the way. The realities of a higher level of competition will be tough on players and parents. But, Harris will be leading the way with a wealth of experience. Over those 20 years, he's developed his own football philosophy.
"As far as my philosophy when it comes to football is I rarely look at the scoreboard," said Harris. "I look at every play. If you're successful every play, at the end the scoreboard will reveal that.
"With everybody coaches, players, administrators and parents we'll be enthusiastic no matter whether we win or lose," he said. "If a team goes out and does the best it can, the coaches go out and do the best we can and we still don't end up right on the scoreboard, something good has happened. The pay off may be three or four years down the road."
That would be Baldwin High School football. BHS has never had a junior high program to feed experienced players from. This year's freshman class will be the last to have not had junior high football. That's improvement, according to all involved.
But, again, there will be bumps on the road. Football is a different sport for players of junior high age. There's much to learn and that has to come during practice, much more than games. That could cause problems.
"If a player comes out and does what we ask and doesn't drop his head and by that I mean when tackling or blocking we'll find time for him to play," said Harris. "Will that be as much time as mom and dad would like? Maybe not.
"I will not put a player on the field that is not physically and emotionally ready," he said. "Football is a different sport. A big part to me is he has to understand he's a member of an 11-man team. If he can't perform, what is that saying to the other 10 out there?"
There will be a no-cut policy, which is standard for Baldwin school athletics. But, there will be no guarantees on playing time. And, early, important lessons have to be learned.
"It is a team sport," said Harris. "If they have a habit of skipping practice, they'll be gone."
After long discussions with BHS coach Berg, the two have come up with plans. The junior high program won't be a mirror of BHS, but it will be close.
"It won't be totally different," said Harris. "Mike and I sat down and talked about it. Offensively, yes, we're going to try to run many of the same plays and formations as the high school. But, if we don't have the personnel to do that, we may have to change. Defensively, we'll be the same."
Although Harris has coached football for 20 years, that's hardly what he's all about. His wife, Martha, is a professor at Baker. They've lived in Baldwin since 1996. Martha had driven to Baldwin from Olathe prior to that. They have two children, Kristin, who will be a senior at BHS, and Brian, who will be a seventh grader at BJHS.
Harris had taken a few years out of coaching before going back at McClouth as a junior high coach and teacher. He's so glad he did.
"I missed it," Harris said of coaching and teaching. "I love it. It's what makes me happy and it makes my famil happy that I'm doing what I am."
That started to happen here when BJHS principal Connie Wright approached Harris at music concert this past spring.
"Connie was more interested in me as a teacher," said Harris. "It wasn't until after I was hired as a science teacher that coaching was mentioned. That's important to me. Education comes first."
He learned that from two of his "mentors," Baker coach Charlie Richard and Olathe North's George Wier.
"I worked with two of the best," said Harris. "They stressed that education comes first, I believe that and I will stress that in the junior high program."
And, the way it's all worked out, has been great for the Harris family. Both Nick and Martha are Baker graduates, which of course made Baldwin a big draw. But, it was more than that.
"One of the biggest things that brought us here was not only Martha's career, but we never heard a bad word about the schools," said Harris. "Both my kids have flourished here.
"Regardless of whether I was a teacher here or not, I would want my kids to go to school here," he said.
But, there's a bonus for Harris. Now he gets to teach like he wants to, but also start a football program from scratch.
"That's the exciting thing being on the ground floor and watching it grow," he said.