Prep Football: Stryker stirring up new passion in the Bulldogs
KINGMAN – Russ Stryker is no stranger to football in Kingman.
He is now at the helm of the Bulldogs after previous roles as Lee Williams junior varsity coach and Kingman Academy Middle School coach. However, one thing connects all three of those roles.
“We all know what the cultures are like from school-to-school,” Stryker said. “And the thing is, the kids at the Academy, the kids at Lee Williams and the kids here are all good kids. There is no such thing as a bad kid. There are bad adults. But I love every kid I’ve ever coached – I love them all.”
That word love takes on extra meaning for Stryker though.
When he was hired by former Vols head coach Clint Sasse, he was asked how he won so many football games – because at that point in his career, he had yet to lose a regular season game in five years.
Stryker didn’t think Sasse would believe what he would say, but Sasse obliged and this is what Stryker shared.
“I love my kids and they know I love them,” Stryker said of what he told Sasse. “Once you get to that point where they’re playing for each other because they love each other, the byproduct of that is you can win a lot of football games. At first, he did think maybe I was a little bit crazy.”
But it didn’t take long for Sasse to realize Stryker had created something special.
He makes sure the athletes know his job as coach is to love them and their job as athletes is to love each other.
“By the fourth or fifth game when it looked like we were going to run the house last year, (Sasse) started talking to me a lot more about that philosophy,” Stryker said. “It’s a shame to see him leave.”
However, Stryker is still in town and is tasked with a great undertaking – reviving the Bulldogs football program after a number of subpar seasons.
“I would say the culture here has taken a little bit of a hit the last few years,” Stryker said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to try and turn it around.”
And Stryker took a step in that direction during the Bulldogs’ final spring practice by inviting a Kingman High alumni to speak on defensive alignments.
“He and I grew up together and he’s a coach at Notre Dame Prep,” Stryker said of Paul Clark. “He and I talk all the time and we’re getting into 7-on-7 season, so I wanted him to come talk. He works specifically with linebackers and corners. So I wanted him to do a quick install.”
This isn’t the first time Clark has made the trip north and there is an important reason why Stryker invites him to speak.
“The thing with Notre Dame Prep is, even though they’re a private school – being 850 kids – they have to do a lot of work to compete at the level they do,” Stryker said. “And they do – they’re very competitive in a bunch of a different sports.”
The Saints advanced to last season’s 5A State Championship where they fell to Centennial.
While they may not hoisted a championship, Stryker knows the fact a small school advanced that far in the playoffs can provide the Bulldogs with inspiration – especially with the experience on the squad.
“I have 15 seniors this year and that’s a pretty loaded team,” Stryker said. “If we can get everyone to believe that they could be as good as what they think.”