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HHF/GID Interview with Coach Justin Kinzie - South Bend Riley


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Guest DT
HHF Interview with South Bend Riley Head Coach Justin Kinzie
 
Hello Coach Kinzie and thanks for joining us
 
Question 1
Please tell us about your summer workouts. What have been your priority areas and what specific strengths and weaknesses are you seeing based on June-July drills and team competitions?
Question 2
Last year was your first at Riley, and it was a very streaky one, as you opened up against some very stiff competition with 3 straight losses, then rebounded to win three in a row. Then a loss to New Prairie started another downtrend and you finished out with a first round sectional loss to Logansport. How would you assess your first year at the helm of the Riley program, and what key changes have you implemented as you prepare your team for year 2?
Question 3
South Bend public school enrollments continue to decline. There is steady talk of possible school closings oir consolidations. How does any of this impact your program at Riley, and does it affect your short or long term planning?
Question 4
What kind of offensive and defensive schemes will you be employing this season, and are you making any adjustments based on returning personnel?
Question 5
Who are your top kids returning on offense and defense this fall, and how are they performing in summer drills?
Question 6
Off season weight training and conditioning and speed development are a critical path to success in high school football today. Is this a barrier for South Bend public schools based on the facilities that you currently have access to?
Question 7
The NIC is one of the more interesting conferences in the state, and the only conference other than The Summit in Fort Wayne to have schools ranging from 2A to 6A. Your program is situated in the South Division with the 2A, 3A and 4A non private schools. Are you happy with the current conference alignment, and does it do everything it can to give you scheduling flexibility to do what you need to do to get your team prepared for the postseason
Question 8.
Several schools in the NIC have had recent success, including Elkhart, Marian, and New Prairie Penn will always be a factor due to their sheer size and numbers. Washington had that great 2011 team that went all the way to the state finals before losing to Cathedral. Since then it's been rough going for the SB public schools. Even St Joe has had a tough time. What are the biggest challenges facing not only Riley, but all South Bend public schools, and are the tools in place to meet those challenges and get these programs moving back in the right direction?
 
 
Responses
1) We’re an extremely young football team this year, and that poses a really unique challenge for us. The pandemic forced all of us in the coaching world to adapt, and so many things that we used to take for granted - like lifting and conditioning - were made very, very difficult. We had limited access to our weight room for the past year and many of our students were out of the building eLearning through the Winter and Spring, so the primary focus of our entire off-season has been strength and conditioning. Obviously we have a lot of things we need to work on from a schematic standpoint, but none of that means anything if our athletes’ bodies aren’t properly trained to take the wear and tear of a football season. Thankfully we’ve had a really supportive group of people at the corporation and building levels who have made it easy for my staff to get access to the things we need to get caught back up. From downtown to our athletic director and all the way to the building engineers and facilities staff, it’s been refreshing seeing the commitment to the student-athletes. The best thing I have seen this off-season is how eager these young men are to get back to work.
 
2) I know a lot of people say to take the 2020 season with a grain of salt due to the pandemic, but winning 3 games on the field is clearly not up to the standard that we expect on the South Side. We really struggled to find our footing early, and I feel like a lot of the mistakes we were making in weeks 1 through 3 were mistakes that we would normally have been making during 7-on-7 and competition days in the Summer. It’s easy to write that off and make excuses, but everyone else was dealing with the same set of circumstances and ultimately it falls on me for not finding a way to make sure that the team was properly prepared by Week 1. We started to gel and we had that stretch from Weeks 4 through 6 when we saw what our team was actually capable of, and then we ended the year battling with injuries and depth problems. I think it was really a testament to the Seniors on that football team to see how they battled and stayed together, and it ended up being a great learning experience for all of us. We got through a full season safely, and the season helped the younger guys - 4 of those young guys being freshmen starting on this team by the end of the year, two of them playing both ways - learn what it takes to be a leader from the class of ‘21. I as a coach will be much more involved with all 3 phases of the game, and we’ve been able to spend more time this off-season honing and working on our offense with live reps against actual competition.
 
3) Enrollment and school closures are one of those things that might come up a lot in the community or in the news, but we actually don’t talk about it much as a program. I believe that athletics has the potential to help enrollment within South Bend, so it isn’t necessarily something I would dismiss as being totally out of our control. While it might not be something that the student-athletes themselves worry about, I think all of us involved with athletics within South Bend recognize that the more success we have the more our students within South Bend will recognize that they don’t have to look to outside school districts to have the same opportunities. Just this past school year we saw the Washington girls basketball team go to State, Adams won a sectional in baseball, we won a sectional in basketball here at Riley... There are a lot of really good things happening here in South Bend, and we want to make sure we give our communities as much to be proud of as possible.
 
4) I was the defensive coordinator at Riley in 2019, and I took over a 4-4/4-2 defense that was already pretty solid. Prior to coming here I had the honor of coaching under some pretty phenomenal defensive minds, and I have spent the last 3 years trying to sprinkle some of what I learned from those mentors into what we were already doing here at Riley. We will continue to grow and adjust to the offenses in our conference, but we definitely don’t see any reason to make wholesale changes to what we do defensively. One of the biggest changes you’ll see this year is a commitment to the option game offensively. Being more hands-on with the offense, the option is just the offense that I feel the most comfortable with, and it’s what I believe in for us as a program. Last season we had to adapt and run an offense that we could teach and practice in our extremely limited time, so I’m enjoying having all of the time this off-season to really focus on learning the ins and outs of a new system. Not to say that we won’t still experience our growing pains, of course, but it’s been exciting to see the guys really growing in to what we’re trying to do.
 
5) Coaches like to make quips about how “every day is a job interview,” but this season that statement is especially true. We graduated a large senior class from our 2020 football season, and every day for us literally *is* a job interview as we try to determine who are the 11 guys on each side of the ball who give us the best chance on Friday nights. With all of that turnaround, we’re going to be leaning very heavily on those returners that we do have. We have two guys on our offensive line, Senior James Pruitt and Sophomore Marcus Henderson, who will really be responsible for making this whole offense go. Senior James Boyd is going to be one of our primary offensive weapons, but is also going to be someone we need to step up at safety. We have Juniors Antwann Simpson and Ethan Witz in the backfield, and they both saw lots of time last season. Sophomores Trevor Jester, Justin Smith, and Robert Nabieu were three of our starting/rotating guys on defense as freshmen last year, so they are wise beyond their years on the football field, as well. We also have a real difference maker on special teams in Ryan Kingston, a guy who we can rely on to flip the field when we need him to. He’s been making the rounds at the kicking camps this off-season, and has been ranked as one of the top 20 or so punters in the country. Again, while there are lots of young guys being mentioned here, they’re all guys who didn’t play last season out of necessity. They played early because they were ready to play early.
 
6) While I certainly would never complain about having better facilities to work with, I’ve been around programs who have far less than we have at Riley. While it’s certainly a work in progress, it’s good to see that we have people in administrative positions all over South Bend who recognize the importance of athletics and who have made a real commitment to improving conditions for our athletes. In the past few years we’ve implemented a Positive Coaching initiative as a corporation that’s built around some really exciting educational psychology. We’re getting a new weight room at Riley soon, and we had some people in our corporation fight to make sure we got some loaner equipment while we wait for that project to begin. Yes, we might not have access to a lot of the things that some other programs have, but that’s part of the challenge that us coaches love.
 
7) I know that my opinion is extremely biased, but I believe that the NIC is one of the toughest conferences around. We have a bunch of teams who play really sound, really hard-nosed football, and I absolutely believe that it’s a conference that helps push us to be the best versions of ourselves possible. Bremen, Jimtown, and Glenn might be smaller schools than we are, but the quality of football played at those schools is always top notch. We’ve had some really tough battles with those 3 schools over the last few years, and I definitely think that we make each other better on the field. Having a 6-team conference is also great because it allows us to schedule 4 non-conference opponents, which gives us a chance to reach out and find some other opponents who add to our strength of schedule and help prepare us for the post-season. We play Michigan City and New Prairie this year as out-of-conference opponents, and those are two pretty tough games for us. It’s also been a blessing that we’ve managed to keep Adams on our schedule as a non-conference, as the South Bend games are always exciting for the teams as a rivalry game. When you get to play all 3 of the other SBCSC schools in a season it adds a little extra to the city bragging rights.
 
8. I think, first and foremost, a coach has to come in to a situation like this and recognize that the goal can’t be “let’s win football games.” There are just under 320 football schools in the State of Indiana, and obviously all of us want to “win football games.” Some of us do, and some of us don’t. What we’ve really been focusing on this year - coaches and players - is trying to identify what we can do as a program to change our culture to be the kind of culture where winning is a byproduct of how we do things. I’ve had some really great conversations with my Seniors, and this small Senior class has been extremely open and honest with me about things that they think we can do to continue to grow our culture, KNOWING that the trees that they are planting are ones that won’t have leaves until long after they leave. Right now, our biggest push has been on participation and numbers. We work with our young guys to try to increase participation among the freshmen and sophomores, and then we do everything we can to keep those kids engaged and eligible. A kid who might be a backup JV guy as a sophomore is quite literally the future of the program, and we have to treat all of those guys like we treat our starters and our stars. Most importantly, we have to make sure that the players and the families and the communities see the love and support that we give our student-athletes. It can’t just be lip-service, it has to be authentic care and we have to make sure that we’re actually improving lives through what we do as a program. Yes, we want to win football games. But with any of those other programs (Marian, Elkhart, Penn, etc), winning is the *result* of all of the things that those programs do. They don’t just have better players and better plays, they have strong championship cultures. That has to be the focus of where we spend our energy.
 
 
Thanks Coach and best of luck to you and your team this season.
 
Tim Phillips
Hoosier High School Football

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Edited by DT
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