Mike Schmitt spent the early part of his coaching career traveling all across Louisiana, coaching at five different schools in a decade. But he's now in his seventh year at Eaglecrest, and you can be sure the Raptors are glad that he continues to head their program. His tenure has overseen Eaglecrest's steady ascension, including playoff trips in 2014, 2013 and 2012 — when they were a surprise quarterfinalist in Class 5A. This season, Schmitt's Raptors are the lone remaining unbeaten team in 5A at 7-0, and are ranked No. 3 in this week's CHSAANow.com football poll. He's a compassionate coach who lives by a code of sportsmanship. Two weeks ago, his team's demeanor was so noteworthy that an opposing parent sent Eaglecrest a letter praising their "class right from the beginning." "It made (our kids) want to be like you," the parent wrote.
Years as head coach: 10 (39-51 overall)
Years at Eaglecrest: 7 (32-38)
Previous stops: Overland offensive coordinator (2008-09); Live Oak (La.) head coach (2006-07); Buras (La.) head coach (2005); South Lafourche (La.) assistant (2004); Overland assistant (2003); assistant at Many HS (La.) and Redemptorist (La.) (1996-02).
Q: Why did you decide to become a coach?
I got injured when I was a real young kid. I was a sophomore in high school, and had to get my ACL repaired, and that was 25 years ago, back when those things were pretty new. ... I had to sit for a couple years. Back then, it was so different with knees. I didn't get to play until my senior year. It made me realize how much I loved it. I was still around the team, and I got to spend more time with the coaches. I saw how they interacted with the players and I really appreciated that. I went to college and I played for a few years, and it was the same deal. I had some college coaches there that kind of motivated me to want to be a coach just because of how they interacted, good and bad. All of my family are all into business and sales, and I'm the first teacher in the family. Somewhere along the way, I kind of fell in love with it. I just had a lot of people influence me, and I kind of wanted to return that favor. I felt like some of the trials and tribulations I had been through in my playing career, I could help kids. Because I went through some difficult times. It's proven true for me through the last 20 years of coaching.
Q: Is there a reason you coach the way that you do?
When I first came out of college, I was still gung-ho. Screaming and yelling and cursing and everything else. It was almost like I was playing for myself and coaching for myself. Somewhere along the lines, I got out of coaching for about a year, and I realized that I missed the relationships with kids. I believe that a lot of my beliefs as a Catholic, as a Christian, have molded me. I'll tell you what, the biggest change was becoming a dad. I have four kids now. I have a sixth-grader, a fifth-grader, a first-grader and a kid not yet in kindergarten. And my wife. And all of those together kind of just changed who I was. Getting out of coaching for a year, coming back to it, and then having a family has really changed my philosophy. I speak to my players the same way I speak to my sons. Sometimes that's a little harsh for some people, but I always go back and talk to them about the good things that they've done. Sometimes it resonates and sometimes it doesn't.
Q: With that, what would you say it's like to be coached by you?
I would've liked to have been coached by me. I just feel like a coach like me really appreciates a hard-working kid that's in the weight room, is a good teammate, takes care of his responsibilities on a daily basis. I wasn't always the most talented kid, so when a coach would pull me out of the crowd for being a hard worker, it really stuck and really made me feel proud. I would have liked to be coached by a guy like me, because I feel like that's what we look for in our players. If you've watched us play the last few years, you see that our kids play hard. I think that's the most important thing about being a high school football coach.
Q: What's the most memorable moment or experience you've had with a player or a team?
There's so many of them. It seems like there's things that go on forever and ever. I think a few years ago, when we went to the quarterfinals with Xavier Lewis and that group. The team I have right now is the same caliber as far as the mental side, but this team is so much more talented than that team was. I mean, we've got some talented kids on this team. Guys that can flat-out play and that are big and strong. But that team didn't. And we beat Cherry Creek to get into the playoffs, and we made a run to the quarterfinals. That was pretty special. The other one, at Overland High School in '03, when we played for the state championship, when I was an assistant with Tony Manfredi. That was a pretty special year for me, too. That was the last run Tony made to the state championship, and Tony is a dear friend of mine who I have really taken so much from coaching for him and the way he coached kids. He's a god father to one of my son's. I tell you what, it's a pretty special deal. So those two instances right there were just so special. Doing things that you aren't supposed to, and beating people that you aren't supposed to, or watching kids that aren't as talented overcome. It's just cool.
Q: You guys are now — well, have been — the only undefeated team left in 5A. What's that expectation level like?
Every game, I just worry about the next week. We're still young. I mean, the truth be told, out of the 22 starters, I think we only have five or six starting seniors. So most of us are still juniors and a couple of sophomores and even a freshman. I know it sounds cliché, but we have really just tried to get better every week. ... To say that we expected to be undefeated, that's a stretch. It's hard to do that. We've just really tried to play better and eliminate mistakes that have killed us in years past. And I think every week, we've gotten a little bit better at that.
Q: What are you expecting as you try to win this (Mt. Wilson) conference championship?
We've got Castle View this week, and they played Ralston Valley tough. They're a big, strong football team that can hold the ball all day on you. They can grind out some yards. We're just going to try and make sure we don't have any turnovers and find ourselves scrambling. Ralston Valley, two years ago we had a scrimmage with them, and we had a great scrimmage. Afterwards, I told my team, "We're going to see this team again at some point." Sure enough, we saw them in the second round (of the playoffs), and they beat us on a long field goal. And the next year, we played them Week 1. ... It was another good game, and we wound up losing by six. It's just kind of been a little rivalry all of a sudden. So that's going to be a fun game. And then A-West is so much improved. The last three teams just have their own little challenges, just like the first seven teams did. How it shakes out, it's just a matter of us doing our job and taking it week-to-week.
Q: It looks like your quarterback (Jalen Mergerson) is having a good year ...
He was a backup quarterback as a freshman behind Elijah Ross. He had a pretty good understudy going on there. Elijah was just a phenomenal player and a good leader. So Jalen took over as a sophomore, and he threw for more than 1,400 yards last year, and I think rushed for 700. His dad's a coach, his dad's ex-military, and his mom's a teacher. If you've ever been around a teacher's kid, military kids, they're just good young men. So he's the same way. He works hard in the classroom and really pushes himself there. He's just a good leader, he's a quiet kid. He's one of the hardest working guys in the weight room. He runs track — he was on our 4x100 and 4x200 teams that ran at state this past year. He's an overall good athlete, great kid. Comes from a good family. I credit a lot of the development we're having on him this year because of his leadership style.
Q: And the fact is, like you've said, you have so many juniors and sophomores contributing here. Not to get way too far ahead of ourselves, but this sets you guys up for a couple of years.
You know what? When you play young kids, if you're not any good when you're playing young, it's not like they're going to be good when they get older. So it's not just about playing young kids or playing kids that lack experience. It's about their character to being able to deal with it. The hardest thing that I was always concerned about was — I knew these guys were talented. For me, it was, "Do they have the mental or maturity level to deal with some success?" And they have. That, to me, is the biggest thing. Down the road, whatever happens happens. I feel like these guys are mature enough right now to do the things they're doing and to continue to do them. So we're going to focus on the now, and when we get to the offseason, we'll use whatever happens in the now for what we do next year. This group, we've won the Broncos 7-on-7 two years back-to-back. And these guys that are now juniors have been the ones that have helped do that. But you can't diminish the few seniors we have, their quality. Right now, that's who I'm worried about. What's most important to me are the guys that have been with us for four years. We have quite a few of them that have busted their butts, and they're willing to lead these young guys and allow the young guys to be good players. They're just unselfish seniors. That, to me, is the most important. You can have talented young guys, but if you don't have those seniors that are willing to lead those young guys and also let them shine a little bit, you don't have a good team.