Jaron Cohen might be doing more with less this season. A year ago, he had a standout quarterback in Sterling Ostdahl and a 1,000-yard rusher in Jevon Glover. This year, sophomore Jack Hannenburg has done an admirable job running the offense and Koby Kercher has done a good job giving the Mustangs consistency in the ground attack. The main reason for Ponderosa's success, though, has to be attributed to the defensive side of the ball. Ponderosa opened the regular season with losses against Legend and Valor Christian. In today's scoring bonanza that has blanketed high school football, the most points the Mustangs gave up in those losses is 30. Since then they've won seven games in a row and have given up more than 10 points just twice in that span. After a 21-9 win over Class 4A No. 4 Montrose on Friday, the Mustangs are 4-0 in the Metro League and can wrap up a league championship this weekend.
After losing senior contributors from last year's team, a lot of people wrote Ponderosa off. But Cohen believed in his kids. That belief has them playing at a high level and has made Cohen this week's Broncos High School Coach of the Week. The Broncos coach of the week is selected in partnership with the Broncos and CHSCA.
Jaron Cohen bio
Years as head coach: 14 (77-68)
Years at Ponderosa: 5 (39-15, 7-2 this season)
Previous stops: Assistant Spackenkill High School (N.Y.) (2000); Assistant coach Windsor High School (Conn.) (2002-04); Head coach Rockville High School (Conn.) 2005-07); Head coach Liberty High School (2008-12); Head coach Hinkley High School (2013); Head coach Ponderosa High School (2014-present).
Q: What got you into coaching?
Cohen: I always played football and baseball my whole life. I played football in college and got injured. I was a student-teacher and my cooperating teacher was the head football coach there and he got me on as a JV coach as a way to stay around the game and hopefully give back a little bit. From there it's all been coaching and teaching.
Q: What's been the best overall part of this journey for you?
Cohen: When kids come back five or 10 years down the road or even two years down the road and you're seeing kids that hopefully you've made a positive impact on. It's great when you see their parents around town or get invited to the wedding or get a baby announcement and all that stuff. Also being a competitor and be active (in the game) even if I can't play anymore.
Q: Think back to your first year at Ponderosa when you guys went 5-6, what's different about the school and the culture of the team now?
Cohen: Definitely higher participation. When I got there we had about 65 kids in the program and now we have about 105. We have tremendous leadership with our principal Tim Ottmann, who was an AD forever. Our current athletic director Corey McNellis does a great job. He's kind of been in the fire as a wrestling coach. It's just a standard of work that was already in our kids from previous coaches. As far as the culture goes, I was lucky to come into a program where the kids work really hard and are really committed. We've been able to expand on that and get more kids out playing football and putting them in a position to succeed.
Q: What was the message you gave your kids after starting this season with two losses?
Cohen: One thing our players know is that we're going to be better at the end of the year than the start of it. Our first game we had 15 kids who had never played varsity football before. We had a really tough loss in a great high school game to Legend. It's just a fun game to play because the stands are packed and the kids know each other. Then we went out and played Valor and it was 16-6 heading in the fourth quarter and our kids started realizing that even though we are young and inexperienced, we can play. It was tremendous after the Valor game. You're never happy after a loss but we were proud about their effort and preparation and I had a feeling we could get on a run. It was just believe in what we're doing and keep getting better and this thing will turn in the win/loss column. And it has.
Q: What has the success since then told you about the character of the kids on the field?
Cohen: We just have kids who won't quit. I'm extremely fortunate to have a tremendous selection of assistant coaches. Our players know that what our coaches are going to install and do in practice is going to give them a really good chance at success. It's kind of a trust that our players have in our coaches and our coaches have done a great job this year kind of modifying our scheme to our players. The last few years we've been scoring close to 50 points a game running no-huddle. This year we realized we didn't have that. When we modified it our players didn't question it they just knew the coaches were going to do what they could to help them and they believe in us and it's really nice as a coach to have that trust with your players.
Q: How has your coaching style evolved in your career? Does the rookie head coach at Rockville in 2005 have this team at 7-2?
Cohen: Probably not. The main thing that I've taken away is that you have to modify your system to your players. I think back in the day you get married to the idea of there's this one way to play football and as you get older you figure out what you need to do for your players this year. There are some non-negotiables as far as how you're going to practice, how you're going to prepare, how hard you're going to work in practice and in the weight room. As far as what type of schemes and even what kind of tempo you're going to run, I've learned you have to be extremely flexible. If you saw film of this year on offense and defense and film from last year, you'd think they were two completely different programs. You would notice in both years that the kids play very hard and are incredibly disciplined and have fun out there.
Q: Beyond the field, what has become the most important part of coaching for you?
Cohen: Just trying to find balance in my life. I have a wonderful family and two young boys that I want to make sure I'm home for. I keep trying to find ways to work smart. I might work less hours than before but I think we're productive with them. We try to have that same effect on our players by not having three-hour practices, the all day Sunday staff meetings. I'm just trying to be good in all aspects of my life; be a good dad, be a good husband, let my kids have that time with their families and make sure their keeping up with their studies and finding that balance.
Story: Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com
Photo Credit: Ponderosa High School