Coach's Corner: David Svoboda 11/29
By David Svoboda PrepsKC columnist
This is a story of family and football.
It’s also a story of three men and their sons – and how fortunate I am to have had their lives intersect with mine.
A little backstory is in order.
I’ve always loved sports, and football and baseball took turns tugging at the heart of a 6-foot, 155-pound high school kid as I grew up in Salina. Simply put, however, I just wasn’t any good at playing the games I loved so much.
In the backyard, I absolutely “ruled” in football – with diving catches and TD throws being the rule rather than the exception. In reality, my younger brother was the high school football player, and I was the sports writer afraid of being broken in half by guys far tougher than I was.
But I was fortunate enough to go on to college at a little old place called Kansas State, and to stay there through graduate school at the time a man named Bill Snyder was just beginning his career in the Little Apple.
Getting a football education at the feet of a legend isn’t a bad way to go, and I took all I learned and decided that – in addition to coaching baseball, which I had done since I was a high school junior in Salina – coaching a second sport just might be a fun thing.
Glad I came to that reality. Starting my teaching career in Junction City, I didn’t coach any high school sports during my first year at JCHS. I, instead, served as the volunteer assistant for Coach Mike Clark’s K-State baseball program and settled into teaching at the high school level.
In my second year at BLHS, however, a football coaching change was made and a man named Randall Zimmerman came into my life.
Coach Z, as his players and fellow coaches call him, was fresh from what I referred to as “western” Kansas, and had some strong ideas as to what a football team should look like. Toughness and physicality were just two of the elements he wanted to see from his teams.
I was drawn to him as a teacher and a mentor, and immediately brought up the subject of possibly coaching with him – a neophyte in a world he knew all too well.
He gave me my shot, however – at Fort Riley Middle School. Yup, my first two years of coaching football would be at a middle school on a military base.
Another whole column could be written about that experience, but it’s time to put some meat on these bones.
As I was growing into coaching football, one of Zimmerman’s boys – a ball of energy named Ty – was running around scooping up errant throws and generally just hanging around his dad and the game of football.
Yes, it’s that Ty Zimmerman, the K-State safety who has carved a niche for himself in Wildcat lore with some tremendous play through four years as a starter in Manhattan.
The Ty Zimmerman I knew was a ball boy. He was the kid who ate an extra banana at our team meals on game day. He wasn’t the future all-state performer who – as a quarterback – would lead JCHS to a State title after I had moved on from coaching with his dad (I eventually got on Randall’s staff at Junction City as a freshman coach, then receivers coach).
He was part of a football family. And, little did I know it, he was setting into motion something that would play itself out two more times in my life as a football coach.
When I moved to Basehor-Linwood High School to teach and coach in the summer of 2002, I met a man named Paul Brown, a man just off of a coaching stint at Bishop Miege and struggling a bit to find lasting success in Basehor.
I also met Paul’s four boys – two of whom I was fortunate enough to coach (Jake and Pete), and two older sons who I missed out on teaching or coaching.
Oh, did I tell you that Dave – one of those older sons – is the offensive coordinator at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado? And that Pete is now an offensive graduate assistant at Iowa State?
Yep, it gets kinda scary, this football/family/fate thing.
Coach Brown was probably the most decent man – and remains so today – I’ve ever met. Faith and family were first, and football was second. Those values – and a great wife – have allowed his kids to grow up to be fantastic men.
And football, obviously, has been a major part of that. As Dave and Pete surely demonstrate, the tug of the game is awfully hard to elude, if you’ve been brought up around it.
When Coach Brown was told his contract at Basehor wasn’t being renewed, I dealt with the reality of having to “sell” myself as a football coach to a new head coach. That coach, Steve Hopkins, came with a reputation of being a bit obsessed with the game.
It was a reputation that was well-deserved, but he was also – thank goodness – obsessed with building great young men and young people in general – being a better classroom teacher than a football coach.
Geez, I forgot to tell you about his sons – Dan, who is the director of football operations at Mizzou, and Nate, who I coached at BLHS and just finished his first year as a middle school football coach. Wait, Nathan just finished a year as a middle school coach? That’s where I started!
In the 20 years I’ve been fortunate enough to be a middle school or high school football coach – or reporter covering the game – these three families – the Zimmermans, the Browns and the Hopkins’ – have each help shaped me as a person far more than they’ve helped me grow as a coach.
They’ve also allowed me to see how this tremendous game, a game I wasn’t fortunate enough to be gifted to play, but more than fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to coach, will stay with me for a lifetime.
I’ll be in Emporia Saturday, watching Paul’s Blue Valley team (he’s an assistant there now) battle for a Class 5A state title. And while I’m there, I’ll sneak a listen to Ty’s K-State squad as it battles KU, and think about Dan and Steve Hopkins, as the Tigers get ready to battle Johnny Football and Texas A&M.
At K-State, where Ty is currently wrapping up his senior year on crutches, the team slogan for this season is “nothing is more important than family, and this one is yours.”
Thanks to my three coaching mentors and their sons who continue to “grow” the game, I can truly understand what that means – whether or not I ever played the game myself.
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