Jake Novotny's program is finally Jake Novotny's program. After helping Colorado State University-Pueblo to a Division II national championship, Novotny decided it was time for a new challenge. He wanted to be a head coach.
Novotny was eventually hired at Fountain-Fort Carson after a tumultuous offseason that saw the sudden retirement of longtime coach Mitch Johnson. And while Johnson was a mainstay for the Trojans, and is still highly respected in the community, Novotny has put in the time and the effort to slowly transform FFC into a program guided by the vision of him and his loyal coaching staff.
And this year, the results of that vision are being seen. The Trojans, off to a 4-0 start and behind a fantastic season from running back Q. Jones, are showing that some of the best football in the state is being played off I-25 at exit 128. Following a big win over Pueblo West last weekend, Novotny is being honored as the Denver Broncos High School Coach of the Week.
The Broncos Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with CHSAA and the Broncos.
Jake Novotny bio
Years as head coach: 5 (24-35)
Years at Fountain-Fort Carson: 5 (4-0 this season)
Previous stops: Heritage assistant coach (2009-12); Colorado State University-Pueblo assistant coach (2012-16); Fountain-Fort Carson head coach (2016-present).
Question: Why do you coach?
Novotny: I coach to take young men where they can't take themselves. I coach to be a role model and a mentor, and really prepare young men to be great citizens, fathers and overall just to be a good person when they graduate. I hope kids, when they leave our program, can say that's what they've gotten out of our program.
Q: Who were some of your inspirations when you were playing that got you going down that path?
Novotny: Number one is my dad. My dad was our coach when I was younger. He was a youth basketball coach. He never was a high school coach, but he always instilled that love and passion for me to want to coach, we'd have conversations at the dinner table with him about it when we were young. I would say my high school coaches Larry Gile and Chris Enzminger and guys like that were great to me when I was younger at John F. Kennedy High School.
Ever since then, I can think of mentors I've had. Mike Greibel, John Wristen, Donnell Leomiti — all those guys have been paramount in mentoring me to be where I am today as a coach.
Q: How big of a challenge did you see it when you accepted Fountain-Fort Carson as your first head coaching job?
Novotny: Given the circumstances surrounding the job, it was definitely a challenge to try and come in when there was turmoil and different things going on. I didn't think coaching the kids was going to be a challenge. I didn't think instilling our philosophy would pose as a challenge. I knew what all those outlined factors would be.
I think that's also kind of who I am. I'm somebody that likes being challenged and likes to attack something head on and really put my stamp on something.
I think the challenge was everything that was surrounding it. It's paid off tremendously for me and my family just in the experience you've had the last four or five years.
To answer it directly, it was a big challenge initially, but I don't think anything worth having is not going to come with some, some type of challenge or adversity.
Q: You took some lickings your first few years. This is the year where everything kind of seems to come together. How much of that is the kids buying into the program? How much is it that everyone's healthy? How much of it is it just feels like it's your year?
Novotny: It's a little bit of all that. I think 100 percent of it is surrounding our program with good people. We have a great coaching staff. I have 18 coaches and we have not turned over our coaches very much at all in the last five years.
The first year was rough. We had only five and we coached all three levels. Those original five are still with me to this day. And so to me that says a lot about what we're trying to get accomplished when you have good people that want to stick around and continue to invest in the lives of young people.
That's a big part of it, having consistency and continuity within our coaching staff because that message gets passed down through all levels.
And then it is everything that you said: It's a case of buying in. They're starting to see the benefit of our weight program and our culture that we're trying to build. All of that is coming to fruition, quite honestly.
We have 30 seniors and their leadership and what our coaching staff has done to develop them as leaders is really the biggest reason why we're having the success that we are. This group of seniors is really special and they want to leave a legacy.
When you have great leadership and the players are the ones driving the leadership and the culture and the coaches don't have to, which the first couple of years was very coach driven, when you have those types of things happen, then you have the success translate on the field that we we've been lucky to experience this year.
Q: You were very vocal when the opportunity presented itself that the kids should be able to play in the fall. What did you see as the biggest benefit in getting them out there sooner than later?
Novotny: I saw kids in our community, in our program, in our school, I saw them struggling in May and June. The ones that we were lucky to have contact with through Zoom and FaceTime and all the different virtual things that we've come to know as the way of life right now, we stayed in contact with our guys as soon as we went on quarantine and kids were struggling mentally.
The up-and-down and the uncertainty of playing or not playing specifically for seniors was really difficult. For us, I think that the benefit is that we're giving these guys some type of normalcy. We're giving these guys an outlet away from all of the different things happening in the world that are so up and down and chaotic right now.
That was the biggest thing and giving these, specifically the seniors, a senior year as close to normal as possible. That's been the biggest benefit and it's helped our guys as I'm sure it has across the state. It's helped them tremendously with just their mental makeup and their mental health.
I think that's been the biggest thing. I see kids smiling and I see — gosh our grades were not where they needed to be when we started this thing. And now our F-list has been cut down by 75 percent and it's been a good thing.
It's been a good motivator for our kids in every shape and form. It's been good for our community and our school. Everyone is excited to be a part of what our kids are doing right now.
Q: What have you learned about yourself and what have you learned about your kids through the COVID-19 pandemic?
Novotny: I've learned that our kids are resilient. I've learned that they will handle anything that's put in front of them as long as there's a clear plan and there is communication. And I think that's my job.
That's what I've learned the most about myself is that in times of uncertainty and adversity and things that maybe aren't going the way you want them to, strong but calm leadership and direction and preparedness and communication will help guide you through that. I, as well as my coaching staff, have done a phenomenal job at that.
And I think that's what I've learned most about myself is that no matter if it's something big like the COVID-19 crisis or something small like a play not going your way in a game that how you approach anything is how your team and those that you are lucky enough to lead will approach it. I've learned that, but most importantly, I'm proud of our resiliency of our kids.
Q: I know that everyone sees this season as being fortunate to get out there and get the opportunity to play. Do you see your focus ever shifting to finishing what is turning out to be a special season for you guys?
Novotny: Look, winning is hard no matter what level you play. No matter the circumstances it's presented with. It is a fantastic opportunity for us to be out there and 100 percent I'm blessed that we are doing that. I'm glad that we've been given the green light.
If we're going to do it, we want to do it the right way. We want to do it to the best of our ability. We don't ever want to just go out there just to be out there. I don't think that the circumstances surrounding the season lessen what the season is. And I certainly don't think there's any type of asterisk or any type of "yeah buts" when it comes to this season.
If anything, to me, the circumstances surrounding the season make it even that more special because of all the uncertainty and all the different things that we're trying to balance as coaches and as teachers, that our kids are trying to balance as students and players, trying to stay healthy, not only just through the rigors of the game, but stay healthy through the pandemic and dealing with grades and learning through virtual systems.
All of that stuff has added things that have made this even more of a battle than a normal season would be. It makes it that much more special to be out there and to have any type of success when you get that opportunity.