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Jonah and Zach

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

ughly a week ago, a coworker of mine started to inquire how much high school coaches get paid. As we all know, if you break down all the hours that you spend watching film, making practice drills, getting the field ready, coaching practice, coaching weight lifting, and whatever else, you’re not exactly making anyone jealous with your hourly wage. And I’m just an assistant coach, which is less of a time requirement than the head coach! This coworker then asked me,

“So why do you do it?”

“Because I freakin’ love it”

Which is the absolute truth. I didn’t have to think about the answer. It just came out. It was what was in my heart. Some days make it easier to love than others. Quite honestly, there are some young men who make it easier to love it.

Jonah and Zach were those who make it easy. If I were given the powers to sculpt the type of athletes that you’d want to build a team around, I’d end up with those two young men.

Jonah was a young man I spent a large amount of time last year recruiting for football (much to the disappointment of his mother, I’m told). We all knew he was an athlete. More importantly, though, his character was well known. He was going to give you his absolute best because he didn’t know any other way. Despite numerous injuries he sustained in sports, he would be right back at it as soon as he was cleared to play.

When I think about strength, something I modeled this blog about, it’s becoming clear that Jonah embodied strength. Strength is not how much you can lift or how fast you can run (although he was good at both of those, too). It’s about how far you are willing to go to achieve great things. Jonah was willing to go wherever he needed to go for his teammates, for his coaches, for his family, and for his friends.

Jonah stopped me multiple times after football practice, asking me about routes or plays. He wanted to get it right. He was willing to achieve greatness. On the other hand, if you ever started to trash talk him a little bit, he’d reply with, “You don’t want this smoke” followed by a grin. He managed to walk the fine line between being confident and humble, making my job easy. He was such a joy to coach. Jonah, thank you for what you did for my life.

Zach was the living example of the other message I try to convey with this blog. His overwhelming sense of positivity and happiness was contagious. I’ve been using past tense, but in reality, his memory still conveys that same positivity. There had been times in practice where I would have to get onto Zach for a mistake he made. Usually, athletes either respond with a “yes sir” or by putting their head down, which tells me how I should respond next. With Zach, however, he would often come back with some sort of a witty response.

“Zach, that’s a good catch but I need you to catch it with your hands, not your body”

“Sorry Coach, I ate a bunch of popcorn before practice and now my hands are all slippery.”

I usually had no way to respond to this because I was busy trying not to laugh. And while, yes, I still would want him to make the catch with his hands, I knew that he had heard my top-shelf coaching wisdom. Zach made it fun to coach. There was an energy about him. He’d often show up to weight lifting with a pink shirt on, which brought on a number of jabs (including some from myself). Yet, two days later, he’d show back up with the same pink shirt and a big goofy smile. It seemed like you couldn’t get him down, even if you tried. That energy, that positivity, and that memory will always be a part of how I coach, how I raise my soon-to-be-born son, and how I live my life. Zach, thank you for what you did for my life.

Jonah and Zach, we miss you guys. We will do our part to honor your memory by living our lives with the lessons that you taught us. We can’t thank you enough for the joy that you brought to us. You were both strong. You were both happy. And we’re all better for knowing you.

After I told my coworker my reason for coaching, he eased up on me a little bit. He told me that those kids were lucky to have me as a coach. But if you went to any of the coaches on our staff and told them that the kids were lucky to have you as a coach, you’d get the same response from each one of them. Because we all know the truth:

We are the lucky ones.

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