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Midvale Journal

New Husky head coach to build player-driven football program

Mar 08, 2023 01:30PM ● By Julie Slama

Former Skyline High assistant coach Robby Kaelin is now Hillcrest High’s new football coach. (Photo courtesy of Skyline High Football Media Team)

Robby Kaelin was in his element as an assistant football coach for his alma mater, the Skyline High Eagles.

But when Hillcrest High’s head football coach post became open, he felt a tug.

“It felt right,” Kaelin said. “It’s something about the timing, about the potential and opportunity of the program. It’s just a gut feeling that this was the right move for my family and for me at the time.”

Kaelin was announced head coach in January. 

“We liked how prepared he is, his overall outlook, what he sees already with the school and where we can go,” Hillcrest athletic director Scott Carrell said.

Kaelin replaces Brock Bryant, who after four seasons, stepped down in December.  

In the past 10 years, Hillcrest hasn’t had one season with a winning record. Over the decade, they haven’t even had 10 region wins. This past season, the undersized Huskies went 0-10.

That doesn’t faze Kaelin.

“It’s a great opportunity with all Hillcrest has to offer. The players that I’ve met already have so much heart and resiliency and care and desire. I feel I am able to help them as they strive toward their goals,” he said. “In terms of being small, both in numbers and in size, we’re planning on running a spread system which gets the ball out very quickly, gets the ball to playmakers in space, and doesn’t rely a lot on holding the ball in the quarterback’s hands for a lot of time.”

Already, Kaelin is familiarizing himself at Hillcrest. He was at the Husky fair that exposes incoming students to the teams, clubs and programs at the school. He also is meeting with current football players to learn about their goals both in the classroom and on the field.

“I’m sharing more about our vision, our hallmark that we’re going to live by as a program,” Kaelin said. “We are already planning on our after-school sessions of throwing and catching and learning the playbook starting in March. Our incoming freshmen group is doing their freshman lifting already and every Friday, they’re doing their throwing and catching pull-in as well.”

The team also will participate in spring football before summer conditioning that is slated to begin in June. For multi-sport athletes, Kaelin will work with them to understand his system.

“I’m a big encourager of multi-sport athletes. I think the more that you’re able to perform different skills, it helps your abilities in football. So those that are participating in basketball or baseball, we completely understand not being able to attend a throwing session or attending an after-school weightlifting program. One of my big goals is to be on the same page with the other head coaches and assistant coaches at Hillcrest, to make sure that our players that are involved in other sports and they’re lifting, they’re still receiving agility training, as well as speed and conditioning training,” he said.

Kaelin said academics will be emphasized as well.

“One of my program’s goals is to help every student-athlete be college eligible whether they decide to go, whether they decide to play sports in college, but we want to ensure every student-athlete graduates. Grades and attendance will be a big focal point,” he said. “One of the great things that Skyline’s current head coach John Rowbotham has done, is in terms of expectations and accountability. Every player knows what is expected of them, both on the field, at home, in the classroom, in the community. They all know what’s expected of them and they have a desire to achieve those expectations and meet those standards. We’ve been very involved with the community there. That’s one thing that we hope to bring is a greater involvement with the football team and the community and to have a positive relationship.”

Kaelin plans to implement a player-driven program to meet expectations, standards and accountability. “It allows the players to control their own destiny with their own team values, their own team goals,” he said. 

There also will be a leadership council, which will help make team decisions and goals.

“I’ve seen the difference when coaches establish goals as opposed to players establishing goals. The commitment level is much greater when the players have created their own goals and values and strive to achieve those,” Kaelin said.

Another goal is to build up the youth program.

“I’ll be working with the youth program, trying to funnel more of our league and youth players into our program. It’s tough when you don’t really have that funnel of players,” he said, adding that his 3-year-old son is “already talking about the Huskies.”

While Kaelin grew up playing baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer, football is his true love. As a kid, he followed the San Francisco 49ers and idolized NFL’s two-time most valuable player and Super Bowl XXIX MVP, quarterback Steve Young.

“I was able to meet him. He signed my jersey one time when he was here as an emcee for the Winter Olympics,” he said. “I grew up loving football. One of the very first things I ever wanted to be for Halloween was dressed up as a football player. I just loved watching football as a kid. That was one of the only things I could concentrate on.”

Kaelin played middle linebacker and fullback for Skyline.

“I just loved the game of football and I love obviously the X’s and O’s, but the greatest thing about football is that there are so many life lessons that we can learn—about teamwork, perseverance, discipline, hard work. Football is not an easy sport. I know that there’s a lot of sports that are very difficult as well, but I feel football is one of the tougher sports, especially mentally; you find out more about yourself and learn that you are capable of more than you thought possible,” he said. “Football is the ultimate team game. You can’t rely on just one person. It’s about the team. It’s not about the individual. One of our hallmarks is specific about team—it’s not about me; it’s about us. Players need to rely on those other 10 players on the field as well as the other 50 to 120 players that are on the team and their coaches. It really is a community where you learn to trust one another and care about one another.”

After serving a church mission, Kaelin went directly into coaching at Skyline as he finished his undergraduate at the University of Utah. Then, he worked as the U’s football recruiter for two years. 

“I’m an alumnus of the U and I worked at the U. I love the U and I bleed red. But one day, I was sitting in my office—and I absolutely loved my job—watching film on players and techniques when two thoughts came to my head. One, my job probably wasn’t conducive to having a family as I was there all hours of the day and all hours of the night. And two, although it was very gratifying, I didn’t feel I was really helping on a deeper level for anybody else. So, one of the ways I realized I could be involved with football and be able to help other people was by both teaching and coaching. I got my teaching endorsement, where I could have a greater and lasting ability to help others as they go through life. I was fortunate enough to return to Skyline,” he said. 

At Hillcrest, Kaelin is planning to teach physical education classes beginning in the fall.

“I was not looking to leave Skyline; I love Skyline. I coached there eight, almost nine seasons, doing everything from the defensive side of the ball to the offensive side and being director of football operations there as well. I’ve been involved in the community, and I have strong relationships with players that I’ve built,” he said. “But I did have the goal to become a head coach at some point. Hillcrest just feels right. We are going to build the program from the ground up; we really want to focus on the fundamentals and establishing a good solid foundation.”