Six years ago, the Summit football program was almost shuttered.
Now, head coach James Wagner has the Tiger program alive and doing the best they have done in a decade.
At the midway point of the 2021 season, 3A Summit sits at 3-2 after a 41-7 win over Middle Park last Friday. It is their first time over .500 this far into the season since finishing 6-4 back in 2011. With the conference schedule looming now for the Tigers, Wagner will attempt to guide his team to its first playoff berth since 2009.
Wagner is turning the program around based off of great fundamental aspects: Character development and consistent hard dedicated work to the school and players, and as such is building a whole new mentality for the team.
It's been a long journey for a football program that is now led by a man with a long journey of his own. Wagner, a Michigan native, first visited Summit seven years ago while in Breckenridge for a ski trip with his brother. Then, five years after that, he took over the head coaching job, and now he is this week's Broncos High School Coach of the Week.
The Broncos Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with CHSAA.
James Wagner bio
Years as Summit head coach (record): Third Year (7-13)
Overall head coaching record: 7-13
Coaching resume: Summit running back coach, Fossil Ridge assistant coach, Gaylord (MI) assistant coach, Taylor University (MI) graduate assistant
Quotes from James Wagner
Why do you coach?
Wagner: I coach because I wanted to be able to be a positive influence on young men and teach the valuable things that this game taught me. I have always loved the feeling of being around the lights on Friday nights and have always been a competitor, but being able to make a positive impact and difference in someone's life is what gravitated me to coach this game.
Why do you coach the way that you coach?
Wagner: I coach the way I coach because it is who I am and it is who I have been raised to be. I have had great mentors in my life who have helped me get to where I am today and they are a huge aspect of why I coach the way I do. I have taken bits and pieces from previous coaches, my mentors, and my family who have all helped shape me to be the person I am today. I feel if I did not stay true to who I am, I would be doing a disservice to myself and all who have helped me along the way.
What do you think it's like to be coached by you?
Wagner: I think I bring a welcoming environment to all players and coaches who I interact with. I try to focus on the person first before I look at the player. I believe that if I am coaching someone, they are getting someone who is passionate, caring, loving, and loyal to anyone who steps through the door. There is purpose within all interactions we have each day, and it is important to give each individual that attention and respect.
What has been your favorite memory from being the HC at Summit?
Wagner: Honestly, my favorite memory has been being able to watch the process of my team develop over the years. To see the process become a product and to see the hard work of these young men start to pay off. If I had to choose one football moment, it would have to be being able to look up into our home stands after a score the other night against Middle Park and see how excited and electric our crowd and team was. It was a very wholesome feeling for me.
What has it been like for your team this season to be above .500 at the midway point?
Wagner: It is a great testament to the hard work put in by my staff and my players. They have been with me along this journey, and it is certainly exciting for us, but we also know and understand that the job is far from finished. We have many games ahead of us and each is going to be a challenge. We simply approach each game and each day as 'One day at a time, One game at a time.' We never want to settle in this game or in life. I know my guys are hungry for more.
Describe what it has taken for you and your staff to get this team from where it was when you took over the head coaching job to where it is today?
Wagner: We never describe success by the scoreboard, but we define it by giving your best on any given snap, play and day. We want to be 1-0 and that is applying to our game ahead of us of course, but also being 1-0 in every meeting, film session, practice, weight training, or class period that is in front of us. It has taken a consistent collaborative effort for all of us to be bought into the process of development. It has taken a lot of trust and communication to build upon each day. It does not mean that each day is easy or that each day is a positive one, but what it does mean is that we are moving forward and continuing to build to what is to come.
What does this football team mean to the community?
Wagner: I feel it has meant a lot to this school and this community. One of the greatest things about this game is how it can bring so many people together. There is something special about this sport that can pull people together and bond over supporting a team that represents a community. I know I am entirely grateful for all the support our school and community has given us and I know that I always try to utilize having my guys give back to the community. I always tell my guys that we cannot expect the community to come out and support us if we do not go out and support them in any way we can.
Story Written By: Dan Whitaker/CHSAANow.com
Photo Credit: Ray Chen/ArrayPhoto.com