KEARNS — Matt Rickards calls out a play and the high school players hustle to their spots, eager to prove their abilities.
Then new Kearns head coach turns his attention to those players on the sideline, ensuring they’re watching with hands clasped behind their backs. If they are not, they will do five pop-ups, a punishment that’s made more severe by the heat and helmets.
It may seem a petty, pointless exercise, but Rickards, who moved from offensive coordinator to head coach in June, said it’s those seemingly insignificant details that really matter.
“The little things will add up to big things,” he said, quoting his former high school coach. “If you can just take care of little things, like being to class on time, that’s going to affect your grade. If you can stand out here and pay attention, that’s an easy thing, then you can learn to play football, which is a hard thing. If you can’t handle the little things in life, you’re not going to be able to handle being on the field on Friday night.”
Rickards took over the program when Bill Cosper had to return to his home state of Texas to care for an ailing family member. Rickards was hired after a month-long interview process and said that the transition has been so smooth, some might not notice some of the changes he’s made.
He said his first priority is to teach his players they can’t be successful if they don’t do the right things in every area of their lives. For example, hitting the weight room hard is only part of what helps an athlete grow stronger.
“I expect them to eat right,” he said, admitting that is a significant obstacle for some of the players whose families struggle financially. “The other day we didn’t have a very good practice and I said, ‘How many of you guys didn’t eat breakfast?’ More than half of them raised their hands. I know it’s a challenge for our kids. Some of these guys, their first meal is they go across the street and they eat free lunch. Today we brought bananas for them.”
He told their parents that good nutrition is vital to athletic success.
“I expect them to eat four to five meals a day,” he said. “If they’re going to compete and train like an athlete, they need to eat and train like an athlete should be training.”
Dealing with difficult situations is part of what Kearns coaches teach their players.
“A lot of these kids deal with adversity on a daily basis,” he said. “They have to work for their families, to help pay bills and things like that. They’re used to having different roles and responsibilities, and we just teach them that it makes them stronger.”
He likens life’s challenges to a hammer and tells the boys they can choose to be glass or steel. The hammer will shatter glass, but it will shape and strengthen steel.
“We tell them to try to be steel,” he said. “We welcome those hard times so we can get better and stronger from it.”
The Cougars will have a chance to prove their ability to deal with change and challenges as they return just two offensive starters and move into one of the state’s deepest regions: 4A’s Region 6. Coaches pick them to finish in the middle of the pack, but Rickards said they’re not worried about rankings or records at this point.
“We’re just trying to make this practice the best in the nation,” he said. “We just want to win the day, the next play, the next 200 feet.”