In 2016, the Mead football team reached the Class 3A state semifinals. It was undoubtedly the best season in the program's seven-year history, and by a wide margin.
Now that the football season and a resulting successful signing day have had some time to sink in, I caught up with head coach Jason Klatt to pick his brain following his fifth year at the helm of the Mavericks.
Question: Last season was the most successful football season in Mead's young history. Looking back on it, what was the team's vibe like in games, at practice and in the locker room, and how did you deal with the simultaneous excitement and pressure in the midst of what was shaping up to be the school's best-ever run?
Klatt: I think, in large part, it depends on what you value as a program. What we value at Mead football is not winning games, going to the Final Four and winning championships. We de-emphasize that. And I know that sounds strange and outside of the box but it helps to take the pressure off the kids and minimize the distractions from the outside world.
It also helps us focus on getting better one step at a time. I've been a fan of and studied guys like Nick Saban who focus on the process and not the outcome. In games, even in the Palisade (3A state quarterfinals) game, our kids are focused on what was happening on each play. The result of that was we won the game. Where we place value and emphasis in our program is a large part of our success because we de-emphasize that pressure.
After this past season's success, how will you prepare for an encore performance and what will the team look like next year?
With all of that stuff comes expectations. So we'll be a victim of our own success next year and in future years. I think the preparation goes back to what your core values are and really trying to figure out what this group is good at and accentuating those strengths. This next group is different. We'll have different strength and weaknesses and we'll have to figure out how to deal with the new challenges each year presents.
Most people fall into the trap of expecting that success to just continue. We're going to try to be as great as we possibly can and to maximize the potential of the group. If that means we get past week one of the playoffs or not make the playoffs, we need to not dwell on what happened last year and take this new group on its own journey.
Signing day was a real treat for you guys, sending a solid group to play at the next level. How do you expect to fill the void left by your three talented captains graduating and what players are you expecting big things from next season?
In terms of who is going to step up, the key thing is not going to be how talented they are in the field. There are several kids in that junior class who have emerged as leaders and who are going to do the right things off the field, in the class room and in the weight room, everywhere really.
Derek Edwards is one who will be a three-year varsity starter. Nathan Mackey is an all-state kid who is returning. Those kids are great on the field but those kids are also great off of it, and they really model what we want to see from our younger kids.
Some kids who didn't get much of the spotlight last year who are going to be great leaders for us are Tyler Keys, Evan Hansen, Jordan Steele and Ryan Lavanchy. Hopefully we've done what it takes to teach these kids what it means to be a leader in our program and they're going to take the torch and run with it next year.
What do you think of the NCAA's proposed early signing period for football in which Division I players can sign in December ahead of the regular February signing period?
You know, the other day I ran across a couple articles on it. I'm kind of interested in it in two regards. Number one, I think it will diminish the February signing day for kids that weren't the upper echelon kids. They wanted to sign and sign with their buddies but some will sign early so it will lighten that day, which has become a huge national event over the years.
The other thing is that I think it really only affects the upper tier of kids, and Colorado doesn't produce a lot of those elite, elite kids every year. Them being able to sign early could ease the institution on the colleges' end. On our end, I don't think it will affect us too much because most of our local kids will be signing in February anyway.
Across nearly all of its athletic programs, Mead has become more successful faster than most people could have expected. We've seen it in wrestling, track and field, football, basketball, all over. How do you explain that?
Our leadership. Frank Buck was the original athletic director at Mead High School and he hired great people in key spots, and those people are in-building people. Now with Chad Eisentrager coming in as our AD, it has become an expectation that our programs are going to expect a certain amount of success and accountability.
I'm not saying I'm one of those great people, I'm just saying that I've done my best to uphold the standards that have been set by the leaders in the school and the community because that's what's expected of me and everyone else at our school. When you have all of these things plus a school with good facilities and good academics, you've got everything you need in the pot to make a good stew. It's fun to be a part of it. I sure don't want to leave, I'll tell you that.