A decade ago, Strasburg football was coming off of three consecutive 1-8 seasons. Earlier this month, the team won its first championship in 25 years.
A mainstay in that turnaround is coach Jeff Giger, who recently completed his 11th season as coach of the Indians.
He has transformed that struggling program — Strasburg was 6-22 in his first three years, and 3-14 in the two seasons before he got there — to winning seasons in six of the past eight years. Since 2013, Strasburg is 37-8. That includes a perfect season in 2016: 13-0, and the Class 1A title.
He was voted as the 1A coach of the year by his peers as part of the All-State teams. And now, Giger has been selected as the 2016 Denver Broncos high school football coach of the year.
Jeff Giger bio
Years as head coach: 11 (65-49 overall)
Years at Strasburg: 11
Previous stops: Offensive coordinator at Los Lunas, N.M. (2003-06); assistant at Oñate, N.M. (2000-02)
Question: Why did you decide to become a coach?
Giger: I think growing up in high school, probably the two most influential people in my life at that time were my head football coach, and one of the assistant coaches. Just kind of everything. Not only pushing you to do better in school and football, but there were always conversations about life. That always stuck with me.
And then I spent seven years in the Army, and I always felt like there was something else I needed to be doing. Being able to hopefully be the same person that those guys were to some young man was something that was huge to me. I hope I've been able to do that a little bit.
To see young men progress from boys when they come into the program to young men, it's just amazing when you get to step back and see that progression.
Q: Is there a reason you coach the way that you do?
Giger: I think a lot of it had to do with how I was coached. And I was very fortunate when I started in Las Cruces (at Oñate) and Kelly McKee was there, I got to learn from him. Then I moved pretty quickly with Bobby Campos to Los Lunas, and he had a different style, so I had things there that I learned. When I got here, some of my assistant coaches who were older, they helped me a lot.
So there's been a definite transition. I think the guys would say I'm a pretty fiery yeller and screamer at times, but I've really kind of toned that down, and learned how to look for more of the positives instead of the negatives.
I think that's a big thing in coaching: You're always trying to find the negatives, and we don't find enough positives. I think I've slowly progressed that way. They may argue with that, but ...
Q: What was the feeling like in the preseason around the program this year, and did you see glimpses of how the season eventually played?
Giger: Going into team camp, we knew we had a lot of speed. We just had a few guys we had to fit into some positions. At team camp, we kind of got an idea there.
We liked some of the changes that we made there. I think the kids showed that it was going to work. That's where we kind of had an idea that we were going to be pretty good.
Of course, you never really know, but that was where we had an idea.
Q: And then the season gets rolling, and you guys are not only winning games, but winning games by pretty big margins. Did that solidify your feeling?
Giger: Honestly, I think as that kind of kept going, I was getting more nervous. I was like, "Are we this good? Or what's going on here."
They made me feel more comfortable, because they were just very confident. They were confident about everything that they did. They were confident when they stepped on the practice field, they just went about what they were supposed to do, and never really got phased or rattled the few times they could have.
They made me a believer as the season went on.
Q: So you get into playoffs, get a No. 2 seed, and win that first-round game. But then you had a couple road trips. What was like that? Did that help bond the team, especially that second-round game at Cedaredge?
Giger: Even the guys said, that was a big change for us. Because I felt like the semifinal, and the final, we probably played two of our better games I've seen us play. It just looked like we were really focused, and really together.
They said the Cedaredge game was big, because it helped us with the travel part. But also, we'd been in the second round the past two years in 2A, and hadn't gotten out of it. They kind of had a little more nerves for that game, because that was the next step that we hadn't taken. And so they said once they got by that, the felt like, "Oh, OK, now it's easy."
Q: You guys eventually beat Meeker to win the 1A title. What's the response from the community been like?
Giger: It was unbelievable. I think probably the one thing they'll remember the most is — after the game, it's kind of surreal, so you don't really wrap your head around it.
But then when we pull into town, you've got the fire trucks and ambulances, and half the town standing there right when we come over the bridge, and then they all go to the football field. That's the kind of stuff you're not going to get but in a small town. That's been amazing.