Jake Novotny has been battling since the second he took over as the football coach at Fountain-Fort Carson.
At first it was because he wasn't Mitch Johnson, the longtime Trojans coach that retired following the 2015 season. Then, his teams benefitted from tough schedules in the early years of the RPI system that determined the playoff fields.
But through it all, Novotny has been doing everything he can to win over the FFC community and get his players to buy in to his program. After all, he wants nothing but success for the young men that take the field for him each week.
Novotny took the time to chat with CHSAANow.com on his time since taking over for Mitch, the early RPI years and the evolution of high school football in Colorado, including the Trojans move to Class 4A in 2020.
Question: You came into the job at Fountain-Fort Carson under some tough circumstances, do you feel now after three years that it's becoming more your program and those issues are starting to fade away?
Novotny: Absolutely. I felt that way the last couple of years. I'll say the first class that has been with me all four years. That's exciting, but in all honesty, you as soon as you walk in the door, they’re your kids. They’ve been our kids the last three years no matter what. But, but for sure this is the first year where we feel like what we're stressing the program is when all those guys have known.
Q: Your running back, Alexisius "Q" Jones, was having a standout year before suffering a leg injury that ended his year. What's his status right now and what do you expect out of him this fall?
Novotny: Yeah, he's on track, man. He's a, he's pretty close to 100 percent. I wouldn't say he's fully there yet, but he's between 95 and 100. He’s done every 7-on-7 with us. He was lifting with us as soon as he was able to through the doctor standpoint. And that was about mid-February that he was lifting with us.
We've kind of been slowly progressing him in the running stuff. We kind of slowed that down a little bit in the springtime and we've picked it back up throughout the summer. We held them out of our 10-day camp this summer, but that was precautionary, not because he couldn't do it. He did everything but live contact. This is really a big summer for him in terms of recruiting purposes, so we want to make sure we can still do a few camps.
We scaled back a little bit in terms of how many we planned on doing initially and just kind of hit some of the ones he had been invited to and a couple others he was interested in; a couple of college camps and everything else that we've done the summer. He’s working through managing the pain just like anybody would come back from an injury. Every day he’s feeling more confident so he’s on track for August 3, it’s really exciting.
The biggest thing in all honesty to answer the last part of your question is I expect him to be humble and hungry. And I think when you get the game taken away from you like that and kind of stare in the face of potentially never playing again, it kind of changes a little bit and how you approach the game and prepare for it. I think that he's kind of had that realization in the offseason and he’s hungry to get back on the field.
Q: You mentioned 7-on-7 stuff. What is the biggest benefit of 7-on-7 camps that the casual observer doesn't see?
Novotny: There are three benefits I see. The first thing in 7-on-7, you're not playing real football. So, like you said, you've got to figure out what's the benefit. For us, number one, it's an opportunity to put yourself in competitive situations that you can't do outside of your 10-day camps in the summertime. We’re not basketball or baseball where we get to play 50, 60 offseason, summer league games. The closest we get to that as a two week, 10-day camp and we only get one scrimmage if we choose to do that in that time frame. It’s about giving your guys an opportunity to go out and compete in the most realistic situation you can within the rules. So that's the first thing.
Second thing, I think it's an opportunity to work on your base passing game on the offensive side of the ball and then your base coverages on the defense side of the ball. That's something that we really try to make sure we focus on. We're not going to go and play something on offense or defense that we’re not going to play in the season and if that hinders us winning a 7-on-7 game, that's okay. We want to be good at our base one or two or three coverages and our base plays offensively there that we know are going to be stables for us in the regular season.
The third thing is that I think it’s really a great opportunity for your kids to really bond with each other and with the coaches. And I think, kind of going back to your first question, this is the first year I've really seen that kind of blossom throughout the summer. Just kids having fun with each other. We ‘ve had to travel to Denver for most of these things so we’re stopping to get lunch or dinner on the way back and there are opportunities for kids and coaches to get to know each other in a deeper level outside of just football. I think that's important. So those are really the three things that I look at for that.
Q: Do you think 7-on-7 work is the closest atmosphere to a college spring season that kids at the high school level can see?
Novotny: No I don't actually. I would actually say that the closest things you get for spring ball for a high school is the 10-day camp that we have. And depending on when you run it, to me, that's the closest thing you get to that. I think if you run that at the start of the summer, which we do, so we treat that as like a spring practice where we're looking at certain positions and who's going to take over those positions.
We're looking at getting good at our base schemes on both sides. We're looking to install some fundamentals and then also try out some things that we haven't before really with no pressure of trying to play a game. The 7-on-7 and the prospect camps and all the different things that happen in the summer for high schools are kind of just something special that happens in high school or something that that is kind of just different from realm.
The 7-on-7 stuff is just it's to play in the summertime. You have limitations on who can work with who and who can't and when you can work with them. To me that the closest thing that you get to a summer or to a spring college ball is that that summer 10-day camp, especially if you run it at the start of the year.
Q: You guys were beneficiaries of the early RPI system, do you think the system is evolving moving in the direction that it needs to go?
Novotny: We have definitely benefited from the RPI system and initially those first couple of years weren't necessarily something that was planned. The schedule was made and we just so happen to have a really tough schedule and you couple that with taking over a program and the situation that we took it over in and that was a challenge for sure. Just like I told anybody before that we've definitely benefited from it and I think that's helped our program.
I also do think that they are looking at it the right way in terms of playoff seeding and why they're doing it. I've seen it shift a little bit.
I would tell you that one thing that that is always something that will be hard for coaches across the state to argue with is when we start making sure that we pay attention to who our opponents are and once that's valued the right way, all of that stuff takes care of itself.
Quite honestly, CHSAA is moving towards that and has done things and changed the formula. That's the way it is and that's the way we have to play right now. That's the way it's going to be in 4A when we move into it. And so for us, we've already had the opportunity to plan that so we have a good understanding of how it works. But for strictly playoff (qualification), I think the RPI is strictly the way to go, especially with the two-year cycle. Things are being looked at and evaluated from a conference standpoint so sometimes difficult to predict those types of things if you were just going off some of the old ways that we had had previously.
Q: As you mentioned, you guys are dropping down to 4A next cycle. Is it bittersweet considering the rivalry you've had with Doherty (the only other 5A team in Colorado Springs) and the opportunities it might give your kids down the line?
Novotny: Yes and no. Number one, to answer the thing about Doherty, we've made a commitment with previously Coach (Jeff) Krumlauf now, Coach (Dwight) Hale that we're going to continue to play each other. We're already on the schedule for each other. The next cycle was kind of talked about with that already. So I don't think that that's going to go away. So on one end, yes, but I don't think that's gonna change much.
And in all honesty, the drop down to 4A was something that me and (athletic director Jared) Felice sat down and looked at a lot of things.
Number one being the population of our school in terms of the number of students that go there has dipped a little bit and that's directly related to the deployment numbers in Fort Carson area. It's just kind of the trends of kind of different from what it was a few years back and which we have zero control. So looking at that and then looking at, this where our program is currently and where we want it to be in the long term and really giving our kids the best opportunity to be successful against similar schools to us.
Really if you look at this region outside of us and Doherty, so you get to Castle Rock, every Colorado Springs school plays 4A or lower. When we start seeing the trends in our school population that way and we start seeing those different things, it just made sense to give our kids the opportunity to compete against like schools, number one.
Number two, to have an opportunity to compete against some schools that would build some community excitement on both ends. Mesa Ridge being in our conference, playing Rampart, playing a lot of those different schools that I've never coached against, a lot of our kids never played against with this group that we have now and coming up.
So to me, I think that stuff makes a lot of sense. Those was kind of the main facts behind a lot of it. That the school population piece and then finding the best situation for our school, where we're currently at and where we can see the best opportunity for our kids to succeed.
Q: As far as you can look ahead, what excites you the most about the evolution of high school football in Colorado?
Novotny: You know, that's a loaded question. It could be a lot of different things. I think for me and from the people in the circles that I'm around, I think the things that would be honestly a good step in the right direction is consistency across the board with alignment. Consistently across the board with, with league alignments and classification alignments. We're starting to see that consistency trickle into the playoff part as well.
But that's the biggest frustration a lot of coaches will have, whether they'll say it or not, it's just a state where every two years we're evaluating and changing and looking at some of those different things. And for good reason. I'm not here to say those are for bad reasons. I just think maybe we can be more consistent on that. I think that would do a lot to help a lot of people out.
And then the other part too that becomes a challenge as directly linked to this too is out of conference scheduling. Because of that lack of consistency, it can become difficult. Just from our perspective, because of us with this last cycle and it being announced earlier than usual and guys are trying to fill out a conference schedule, and we went from 4A to 5A and back to 4A, we're, we're still having trouble finding some games here and there which we'll find. But I just think that's something that can be helped down the road as well.