In each of his three years as the Atholton football coach, Kyle Schmitt has led the Raiders to the playoffs. After graduating 19 players from last season’s 10-2 team, the Raiders don’t have the same level of experience, but they’ve pulled through a couple of close games to start the season with a 2-0 record.
Schmitt, 31, played college football at Maryland, where he started 27 games on the offensive line at center or guard. He spent the 2005 preseason with the Minnesota Vikings then played in Europe in 2006. He spent the next training camp with the Arizona Cardinals before serving as an assistant coach at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania.
He spent 2007 and 2008 as a graduate assistant with the Terps before taking the Atholton job in 2009. Since he took over the Raiders, they’ve gone 30-8. The last two years, they’ve lost to the eventual state champ in the regional playoffs.
Last fall, they reached the Class 3A East regional final before falling to River Hill, a team they beat 14-0 during the regular season, ending the Hawks’ 48-game Howard County win streak.
After beating Wilde Lake, 14-12, in overtime two weeks ago, and Reservoir, 28-25, last week, the Raiders head to Howard on Friday for a 7 p.m. clash of undefeated teams.
As this week’s football Coachspeak guest, Schmitt answers five questions about his team, Howard County football and his coaching philosophy.
You’ve had a couple of close calls the first two weeks. What have you seen in this team that bodes well for the rest of the season?
We’re seeing a lot to improve on. With all due respect to both teams we’ve beaten, I don’t think we’ve played particularly well in either game. I think we left a lot of points on the field offensively. We’re not very good in the red zone. We’re not finishing right now. We punted, I think, three times those two games, but we’re stalling a lot in the red zone. Defensively, I thought we played well our first game. Reservoir got after us with a couple big plays where we had to get off the field on third down. With that being said, I think there’s incredible room for improvement. This team’s young, not in class but in experience. As far as good things, we’re 2-0, we're not 0-2. We picked up two wins now that in November when it’s playoff time, they’re going to be two wins and they get the same amount of points. They’ve been really gutsy and I think the team’s got a lot of character, a really good group of kids. Their experience, we can improve on, so I think we can compete and achieve our goals. We’re not going to beat people like we did last year. I think our average margin of victory was probably 30 points a game. It’s not going to be that way, but that team also didn’t get it done when they were in a tight game. So far, this team has.
How competitive is Howard County football this fall?
It’s as competitive as it’s been since I’ve been here. I think from top to bottom it’s really, really good. I’ll be honest, there are some teams that are still struggling, but those teams have made improvements from where they have been in previous years. The playoff competition is going to be tight. Mount Hebron is really coming along. Reservoir, despite being 0-2, I think is a really good 0-2 football team. They gave us all we could handle and they have some really, really good players. Right now, River Hill is probably still at the top, but there’s a group of about six or seven teams that I think week-in and week-out it’s going to be a battle. Personally, I think it’s the best public school county in the state. We have to prepare our kids to understand that there [are] no weeks off.
How do you maintain such a consistent program -- making the playoffs all three of your seasons and developing quite a few college players?
It’s become a 12-month-a-year job. If you’re not doing it that way, then you’re probably not winning as much as the good programs. Really, it starts with the offseason program. Our kids start lifting weights in December and they go all the way through to August. The improvement level is great for the kids. And I have a staff of coaches that is pretty much the same staff that’s been together for three years. Having that consistency makes it successful. Having good players doesn’t hurt.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in those three seasons about coaching high school football?
I would say that there needs to be a balance as a coach, that you need to demand a lot of your players, but with that being said, this isn’t college football, this isn’t the NFL, so you have to find that balance with your players and get the commitment level from them without discouraging them and demanding that it be the most important thing in their life, because they’re still kids. A lot of them are doing other sports, a lot of them are taking AP classes and everything else. It’s getting that balance of that high commitment level and high standards for the football program but at the same time, allowing them be kids, allowing them to participate in other sports and other activities. We can’t demand they be here 20 hours like a college program or everyday like an NFL team, but at the same time, getting your kids to want to do that, getting the kids to want to go the extra mile. We had kids up here on our off day last week. I was swinging through to pick up something from my office and our guys were throwing on the football field two days after the Wilde Lake game. I had nothing to do with that. It’s against rules for me to be out there with them, but they wanted to be there. If you find a mix of players who want it that bad, then you have a chance to be pretty good.
What is your coaching philosophy and how did that develop?
I’ve been lucky enough influence-wise that I played and coached under Ralph Friedgen and Tom Brattan, the offensive line coach, when they were still at Maryland. Both of those guys were a huge influence on me. Another guy I have tremendous respect for and I’ve tried to pattern a little bit of what I do after is Bill O’Brien, Penn State’s head coach now. I was with him for two years at Maryland as well as a player. That’s just three guys. They’re not the only three, but they're three influences I had. I would say the biggest thing I learned from them that shaped my philosophy was keeping it simple and concentrating on the little things within your program. I think giving the kids a simple message that they can handle whether it be how to block inside zone or how to defend the Wing T and at the same time, really concentrating on all the little things within your program and that goes all the way from organization and so on. For me it’s simplicity and then as a coach being organized. I try to pride myself on being an organized coach. We plan our practices down to the minute. I hate inactivity when we’re on the field for about two hours and then we’re off. We practice fast and we try to play fast. That’s kind of our philosophy. And we'll change things. We’re always looking for the best way not our way. Being open minded is huge.