Game by game, first-year Hillcrest head football coach sees improvementNov 07, 2023 12:03PM ● By Julie Slama
Hillcrest High junior Guillermo Martinez knocks down a pass intended for a Canyon View High receiver. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
Hillcrest High put the pigskin in the endzone for the first touchdown of the team’s last regular season against nearby Jordan High. After Jordan took the lead 8-7 at the end of the first quarter, the Huskies overtook the lead in the third, 13-8. Jordan scored six in the fourth to beat the Huskies 14-13.
It wasn’t the highlighted game of the week as the 1-9 Huskies challenged the 3-6 Beetdiggers, but it was something that first-year Hillcrest High coach Robby Kaelin liked.
“We had a few too many mistakes here and there to win it, but our kids played hard throughout the whole game,” he said. “It was the most complete game that we played as a team, so it was good.”
Kaelin pointed out successes on the field this season.
“I think our defensive effort throughout games improved a lot. Our tackling ability improved even though there’s still things we need to work on in the offseason,” he said. “We saw a big improvement with players just rallying around each other and believing that they could compete in every game.”
Kaelin stands by his preseason plan to spread the offense.
“The spread was still the best move that we had offensively. We dealt with a lot of injuries this year. We had more than 30 kids who dress varsity miss at least one game because of injury or illness. We had multiple kids out multiple weeks, and we were down to our third- and fourth-string quarterbacks by about week four in the season so because of that, we couldn’t do nearly as much offensively as we had planned to. We simplified the offense a ton and got back to basics. I feel like we built a good foundation for our program,” he said.
The coaches’ approach was one of positivity.
“There’s a way to go about coaching where it’s not all just yelling; it’s building their competence so if the same mistake happens again, they’re able to overcome that on their own or with minimal help, rather than constantly having to be reminded of that mistake and what they need to do to improve. We focused on positive reinforcement and support. They know they have people in their lives who support them from the 90-plus players on the team and the other nine coaches, there’s at least 100 people who each player knows has their back along with family, friends and teachers. Every player knew that people cared and loved them and that they were doing good things,” he said.
While Kaelin said the process will take time, the team is encouraged.
“We focus on small successes because every big change takes little steps in the process,” Kaelin said. “Our first game (against Carbon High) had a lot of points (41-20) and it was great to see the energy and excitement these kids had in the locker room after winning a game. It was very positive and rewarding to see the hard work we put in the summer and fall camp made a difference.”
Kaelin said the team made strides off the field as well.
“Behind the scenes, we worked on work ethic, discipline, team honor. We focused on the players finding success in their everyday lives and enjoyment in what they were doing. We succeeded in that aspect,” he said. “We also had players step up in leadership roles; rather than waiting for coaches to bring things up or trying to manipulate the system or skirt around the rules, they took responsibility and initiative. That’s a big thing we saw.”
Some of those leaders were the 19 seniors.
“We have some good leaders in place and obviously, we will miss the leadership of our seniors. We had seven senior captains this year who did an amazing job. Because of their leadership, they were able to push those underclassmen into those leadership roles as well. They were teaching by example,” Kaelin said. “At the same time, we have a wonderful freshman class. They’re in their own playoff journey as a No. 1 seed, which hasn’t happened in years for a Hillcrest football team. These players are dedicated, they’re together as a family. Our goal is to have them together with our very good core coming back continue to make the strides that we’ve made this year.” λ