To the surprise of many, Brett Mertens has the Montrose Indians rolling this year. Sitting at No. 3 in the Class 4A football rankings (and No. 1 in the RPI), Montrose came away with a 54-28 win over Heritage on Friday night to improve to 6-0 on the season. And it feels like he's just getting started. Mertens played his high school football at the 8-man level where he won a state title at Merino. He knew at that point that football was his future. He made sure his track in college would lead him back to the high school ranks where he could have the same positive impact on kids that his high school coach, John Barber, had on him. When Mertens talks about his players, one gets the sense that he is successful in that arena. The Indians will play three of their four remaining games at home and with the way the season has unfolded through six games, have a legitimate shot at being a top seed when the 4A state football playoffs begin.
Mertens is this week's selection as the Broncos High School Coach of the Week. The Broncos Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with the Broncos and CHSCA.
Years as head coach: 5 (29-22)
Years at Montrose: 2 (13-4, 6-0 this season)
Previous stops: Offensive coordinator Crean Lutheran (Calif.) (2009-12); Crean Lutheran head coach (2013-15); Montrose offensive coordinator (2016); Montrose head coach (2017-present).
Q: What got you into coaching?
Mertens: I had a really good experience as a high school football player. My head coach (at Merino) was John Barber who is kind of a legend in 8-man football back in the day. He just had a way with kids and inspired us to be good. And we had a good experience. I just fell in love with football and we ended up winning a state title and through that process I just fell in love with the game of football so I knew I wanted to stay involved in it. Obviously that led to coaching. I knew pretty young. I knew in high school that my goal was to be a high school coach. I chose a school that I could get a degree in education and pursued that path.
Q: You had someone who was great for you in that role, so what do you think it's like for your players to be coached by you?
Mertens: Oh man. I hope they see someone that is passionate about them as people as well as football players. I want them to know that we care about them as individuals and the No. 1 goal is not winning. I hope they also see that we are passionate about football and that we want to do the best we can.
Hopefully they see someone who is energetic and loves what they do and wants them to have a great experience.
Q: In a situation like last Friday where you're playing a top team and you come away with a convincing win, does that help them feel like you're as invested in them as much as you want them to be invested in you?
Mertens: I think they see that. We spend a lot of time breaking down film and that stuff. It's a fun job. We ask them to give their full effort and as coaches hopefully they see that we give our full effort too. I hope they understand that we care a lot about it and we want to help them be successful and it's not something we take lightly. I think our whole staff (takes it seriously). I think I have the best staff in the state of Colorado. Hopefully my players see that all the way through and not just with me, but with all our coaches.
Q: In a season where you're undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the RPI, people might not talk about you as much as other teams. Do you guys like being that team that flies under the radar and has a chance to really surprise some people?
Mertens: We were really flying under the radar early in the year. Now it seems like (we're noticed) a little bit more. Loveland and Pine Creek deserve to be ranked one, two. That's who I voted for. We've had a great season and we've won some close game. I think our kids have surprised me with how well they've played. We're pretty inexperienced and to start the year I wasn't too sure how we were going to do. If you had said that we'd be 6-0 and No. 1 in the RPI I would've told you that you were crazy. It just goes to show that our kids this year, and I truly mean this, this is the best group of kids I've ever had in terms of attitude and effort and just a teamwork standpoint. I think it shows that when they buy into that, they can achieve more than people thought they could and they can work together and accomplish some pretty cool things.
Q: Heritage coach Tyler Knoblock told me after the game on Friday that he was surprised how strong your team looked after losing a lot of seniors last year. What is it about this group of kids that its able to perform at such a high level?
Mertens: I think the biggest thing is that our leaders, our true leaders who are the kids that the team looks up to, are the most unselfish kids on the team. They're also some of our best players. When you get that kind of leadership, it spreads and everyone strives to be like that. I'll give you one example. Our two guards on our offensive line were both running backs when they were freshmen. I asked them to move to the offensive line this year. Their attitude has been unbelievable about that. There has been zero hint of selfishness. They just do what's best for the team. And they're two of our captains. It's that kind of stuff right there that has me encouraged about this particular team. It's how unselfish they are. They don't care who scores a touchdown, they just want to be successful as a team.
Q: Do you think a lot of that comes from the culture that you and your staff have built there?
Mertens: I can't take credit for those kids. We preach all those things, I think every staff does. I'm the lucky one who gets to coach those kids, that's the truth. Some of the kids we have in our program are some of the best young men I've ever coached from a character standpoint. I can't take credit for the quality men that they are. We preach those things, but that's a credit to their families and them as people more than our staff.
Q: What's the ideal ending for this team's story this season?
Mertens: I don't want you to give anyone any bulletin board material. It's been kind of cool because we haven't really talked about that. I know every coach says that, but our motto is to go 1-0 this week. So we're just trying to go 1-0 again this week. Things take care of themselves when you take care of the little things each week. Everyone's goal at the beginning of the year is to win a state title, but we haven't talked about that. We're just trying to take care of what we need to do this week.
Story by Dan Mohmann/CHSAANow