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Coeur d’Alene’s Zack Keiser runs the ball against Centennial in state title game. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Lee: Viks’ ‘family-first’ credo pays off

While I was interviewing Coeur d’Alene senior running back Zach Keiser last week for a feature story, he intentionally stopped to make a point about his coaches, especially head coach Shawn Amos.

Many times we think football coaches, particularly head coaches, are supposed to be these stern, unapproachable figures. They exist to coach football and inspire their athletes to win at all costs. Nothing more and nothing less.

Some time after Coeur d’Alene fell to Twin Falls in the 2004 state championship game, Amos determined that he was going to change the culture of Vikings football. He and his coaches were going to strive to create a family atmosphere.

Mission accomplished. I say that not based on Coeur d’Alene winning its first state title in 25 years last Friday. I say that because Keiser’s comments – shared three days before the state final – were sentiments shared by his teammates.

“It’s family first with our coaches,” Keiser explained. “Their goal is to make us better men in life, better husbands, better fathers, you name it. I appreciate that. They’re not just about winning. They care about you.”

In a season full of ups and downs, the “family” had to deal with the loss of two of their own who died in a car accident in late September. They were friends with many of this year’s football players.

It’s not a coincidence that CdA won its final eight games including a decisive 28-7 decision over Centennial at the Kibbie Dome last Friday. They dedicated the rest of their season to the memory of their friends.

“It makes seasons like this even more special when you lose a couple of Vikings,” Amos said. “It gives you a reality check and makes you understand why this is important.”

In the space I have left in this column, we’ll look at the accomplishment of the CdA football team and the fall in general around North Idaho.

Football

The state title aside, the 2010 CdA team has set the standard for what Amos wants to see develop among future teams.

“They’re just a great group of players,” Amos said after the title game, dripping from being drenched from an ice water shower. “They bought into what we sell – family first.”

Then Amos talked about how far his program had progressed. From the very lean and difficult back-to-back 1-8 seasons his first two years to a minority of parents wanting him fired earlier this decade.

Many were comparing what CdA was doing to the program across town that had captured two state titles and played in four state championship games.

Fair or not, that’s what comes with coaching in a two-school town.

Amos’ coaches have been loyal, especially Ron Nelson and Matt House. They’ve been with him since the first season in 1997.

“Many ups and downs throughout,” Amos said. “There’s a certain group of people that never wavered including my coaching staff obviously. A very loyal staff. That’s hard to come by.”

The night before the state final, CdA’s seniors got together for what they called their weekly “hug” session, the final one for the season.

“(The) seniors talked a lot about family and what we do for them as a family and not so much about football,” Amos said. “That means a lot to us.”

Keiser made a key point about what would be necessary for CdA to realize its goal of a state title.

“The coaches pound DYJ into us,” Keiser said. “It means ‘Do your job’. It’s been our motto.”

And it worked.

Cross country

CdA senior Kinsey Gomez went out in style, capturing a third state title to go with a runner-up finish.

Gomez was particularly dominating the past two seasons, winning by more than 30 seconds in both state finals.

The Timberlake girls pulled off a state repeat in 3A. Leading the way was sophomore Ashly George, who took second.

Other feats

The Sandpoint girls soccer team lost in a shootout in the 4A state final; the Bonners Ferry boys also finished runner-up in 3A; and the St. Maries volleyball team fell short of repeating, finishing runner-up.