An eventful spring at Fountain-Fort Carson is leading to what looks like an exciting summer.
After the retirement of football coach, Mitch Johnson, the school had to find a new coach for the first time in 37 years. In May, the Trojans looked down the road to CSU-Pueblo and were able to hire Jake Novotny, an assistant with the Thunderwolves.
With time already spent as an assistant at the high school level with Heritage and on the staff of a national championship winning team, Novotny found the job at Fountain-Fort Carson to be too good to pass up.
In doing so, he became the latest in a series of football coaching changes around the state this offseason.
With his tenure underway, Novotny took some time to chat with CHSAANow.com about the challenges that come with following a legend and what he brings to the table at Fountain-Fort Carson.
Question: Was it difficult to come into a situation following Coach Johnson with the way he was beloved in that role?
Novotny: I'm going to speak to things that happened before I was here, but I'll the you this, being at CSU-Pueblo and being at Heritage High School from 2009 to 2011, I got to see what Coach Johnson has done from afar and the way he ran things and how he operated as a coach and a human being.
From that perspective, I have nothing but great things to say about Mitch. He's a class act and he's been a guy that's done great things for kids. He's an advocate for kids. He's a good football coach, too.
Coming into this situation, I know from the football perspective that the kids were going to be in a good place in terms of what he's done as a coach and setting them up to be successful at the next level.
Like I said, I have nothing but respect for Johnson and he's a class act and the kids are prepared because of the things he had done in the past and traditions that he had established. My job is to make sure that I embrace the past, but also have a direction and a vision for the future.
Q: When this job became available, was it something that intrigued you and that you sought out or did Fountain-Fort Carson make its way toward you?
Novotny: It was something that intrigued me and I sought out. I was at a pretty special place in CSU-Pueblo. For me to leave there and go somewhere, it had to be just as special, if not more special.
That's exactly how I feel about Fountain-Fort Carson. I've said it numerous times the last couple of days to different people, but facilities, administration, teachers, community-wise and especially kid-wise, there's not a place like this in the state.
I've been all over recruiting (for CSU-Pueblo), I've coached and played in the Denver area and this place down here is the closest you are going to get to a small college at the high school level, or even the Texas type of high school. It's a one-town high school. We're the best show in town.
It's great to showcase our kids on a weekly basis and be able to do that in a town where everybody knows who our kids are.
For me to leave that situation at CSU-Pueblo where we've won national championships and RMAC championships and leave the staff that I worked with down there, it had to be for a place like Fountain. When it came open, it was a no-brainer for me to apply for it. And in a lot of ways for a coach, and I don't care what level it is, it's a dream job.
Q: What did (CSU-Pueblo head coach, John) Wristen say when you were offered and accepted the job?
Novotny: John is really good about giving advice. He's been a great mentor of mine the last five years. Any time I've had job opportunities come up, John's been a guy that I go to for advice, amongst several people, but he's obviously is one of the first people I would sit down with.
He helped me weigh the pros and the cons and look at things from different perspectives. But at the end of the day, he told me, 'Jake, if that's what you want to do and that's what's in your heart, you need to go get that job. You need to go do it and make it the best place that it can be for you and for those kids.'
He was really supportive and was a guy that told me, 'If you're going to go do this, go 100 percent and do it the way we do it down here in terms having a good work ethic and attitude and relentlessly attacking everything you need to do that day.'
He was excited to see guys from his staff go on and have success in other places. I know he's excited for me, excited that it's one of his guys.
And I know, most importantly, that he's there if I need him. It's just like all the guys down there. They're there if I need them. They're 30 minutes down the road and I've already leaned on a few of them for some help and assistance on Xs and Os and ideas. That's the best part is having a national championship coaching staff in your background and also in your back pocket.
Q: You left the high school ranks to go to D-II and now you're heading back to the high school ranks. From what you've seen, what does Colorado have to offer in terms of talent from the high school level?
Novotny: There are guys in the state that don't really understand the type of talent that we have here. I think Colorado is an under recruited area in some ways. I also think it's an area where there's a lot of potential that you can get a kid and really groom him at the next level.
I think you're going to have four to eight guys a year that are going to be Division I guys. Every state is going to have that. Some states have more, obviously. But we're always going to have those four-to-eight each year that are going to be CU guys, CSU guys. But this state is really typically, in my opinion, a Division I FCS to Division II type of talented state. Most kids in this state are going to play at the level.
As a coach, especially at the high school level, you're job is to really educate your kids on the differences in those levels. What it means scholarship-wise for that. How they can get there and how they can be successful there.
My background recruiting and my background with Coach Wristen and knowing the things that he demanded to us to know in recruiting, I can help with that with our kids down here. I can bridge that gap a little bit about what to do, how to do it, what does a college athlete look like.
This state, it's littered with talent left and right. A kid has to be realistic and coaches have to be realistic also. Parents have to be realistic in where can their kids play and be highly successful.
You have to have those brutally honest conversations with kids. But I think that's what you're supposed to do in that role.
Q: Have you gotten up to speed on the way the leagues changed this year with the waterfall process and RPI?
Novotny: I heard people talking about it while I was going out and recruiting in the spring before I interviewed for this job. I heard kind of what the ideas were and I haven't had to chance to sit down and look at it in terms of RPI and how that works.
I have seen how the leagues were set up. And I understand it. You're trying to make it to be the most competitive for everybody in the state as possible and building an opportunity for everybody to compete each other and have an opportunity at the playoffs.
I tell you the one thing that I really like about it more than anything is Class 5A going back to 16 teams in the playoffs. I think that's the right number. I think that is the best way to get the top teams in the state competing for a state championship. I think that the 16-team playoff is the right number for this state right now.
Q: You started conditioning your kids this week, what are the early impressions you're getting from the boys?
Novotny: I'll tell you what, I'm impressed and excited about this group of seniors. I had 100 kids out, JV through varsity. So that's sophomore through senior. And another 25-30 freshmen out. I had 130 kids out in the last three days.
That's impressive for anywhere in this state. For a college program, that's impressive to have that many kids out. They're excited about football. And I'll tell you what they're excited about. They're excited about working with their brothers, working with their teammates for a common goal, which is Sept. 2 against Ralston Valley. Having an opportunity to go compete with each other and for each other.
That's what they're excited about. That's the way these kids are bred down here. That's the way they are, they're military kids. They're kids that understand sacrifice and hard work. They understand dedication and discipline.
As a coach, what's a better place to coach at?