Those who have it want to keep it. Those who don’t have it want to build it. Everybody agrees it’s good to have, but how do you go about getting it?
That’s the question facing Skyridge coach Jon Lehman as he prepares to field Utah County’s newest high school football team in the state’s first game of the season Thursday evening at home.
It’s a topic that has occupied the Falcon coaching staff since they were assembled late last year, and it’s reflected in the team motto chosen by the players: “Building a Legacy.”
“The way we look at legacy is that it’s something you pass on to somebody else in the future,” Lehman said. “We recognize that we have the opportunity as the first team here to pass on a legacy for others to build on.”
Symbolic of their commitment, each member of the program signed the team’s No. 16 jersey in honor of the year 2016. It will be framed and hung in the football office in perpetuity.
“This is something really exciting for our guys,” the coach said. “There might be some kids who come through our program down the line who will be able to see their dads were part of this first class. It’s rare to have the opportunity to do something for the first time, but this is our reality right now. We’ll be gone, but our school will still be here 50 years from now.”
He added that one of the concepts the coaches want the players to buy into is that tradition is built hour by hour and day by day by the choices they make.
“Each of our players individually chooses the legacy they’ll pass on," he said. "The sum of those individual decisions will determine what foundation we lay for our program."
It will surely come as a surprise to some people that the oldest state title trophy owned by a Valley school can be found at Payson. The Lions claimed it in 1925, and the program later won two more, in 1943 and 1971.
This season, new coach Derek Campbell has the challenge of trying to inspire his players with that tradition after the team has struggled the past few years while being bumped around by realignment.
“To have a program that’s successful every year starts with a foundation of past success,” he said. “Programs can rely on that tradition. What we are doing is trying to start a tradition of our own that would build on that.”
Part of the strategy is bringing back past players who continued their football careers at the next level in college. Campbell’s hope is that having them around will help his players understand what’s possible if they pay the price.
“We want to establish a sound work ethic in the weight room, commitment in the classroom, and an overall team concept,” the Payson coach said. “We expect that to add up to being dedicated, which is what we need here in order to build future success.”
The Valley school with the most football titles will surprise no one. It’s Timpview, which has 11 dating back to 1986 when the school was a couple of decades old, making it a relative youngster in the county at the time.
“The tradition of winning is one of the main things, or the main thing, that can build programs,” Thunderbird coach Cary Whittingham said. “Winning, or losing, tends to become a habit. Winning builds confidence and confidence helps individuals and teams succeed and win – it’s a cycle.”
That tradition is so solid for the Thunderbirds now that there aren’t any specific actions that the team does to foster it. Instead, Whittingham said accountability, responsibility, educational success and consequences are taught as much as possible in everyday team activities, practices and workouts.
Maple Mountain is one of the newer schools in the area but has been around a few years now. Coach Brad Burtenshaw said he bumped into something unanticipated when he started the program there.
“I always knew that tradition had value but I didn’t know how important it was until I had to create it from scratch here,” he said. “We’ve tried lots of different things; some things stick and some things haven’t.”
He said when a new coach goes into an older school, the tradition that’s already there perpetuates itself.
“Here it’s been quite a challenge to build something,” he said. “Probably the biggest key is the senior class. We get ideas from them. It’s not going to be a tradition if they don’t buy in.”
Just last week the team voted to continue the way they’ve entered the field the past few seasons, showing that it’s a tradition in progress.
Finally, there are few coaches in the state who understand all the aspects of tradition the way that Tony McGeary does. He played in three state championship games in high school and his team won two of them.
He coached at American Fork and is now at Provo. They’re two of the oldest schools in Utah County, and both of them have state football trophies in their respective cases. In between he was at upstart Lone Peak, where he had the opportunity to skipper the Knights to a 5A title in 2011.
He’s using all his experience to try to build a winning tradition with the Bulldogs.
“When you come into a program that’s won a state championship, that gives your players something to hold onto and build on,” McGeary said.
Provo’s title in 1982 is recent enough that some of the players from that squad are still available as resources.
“To have those guys around and talking to the kids about what it was like has always been a place to start,” the coach said. “It all begins with the players believing they can do it, and then putting in the work. Talent helps, but I don’t care how much talent you’ve got, if you don’t put in the work and play as a team, you’re not going to be successful.”
He added that in his mind, success doesn’t always exactly translate to victories on the field.
“Every year, if we can get a little better, that’s what it’s about,” he said. “It’s not rocket science, but so much can be accomplished with hard work, believing and direction.”
Instilling those three things into players in any program would provide a pretty good formula for helping them to build a lasting, worthwhile legacy.