Alexander brings rebuilding experience to OHS football
Ottawa High School’s new football coach Walt Alexander is no stranger to rebuilding high school football programs
He was the coach of Elk Valley when it snapped a state-record 72-game losing skid, which spanned nine years.
He turned the Topeka High School program into a power after years of futility.
“That was a great experience they were so far down,” Alexander said. “We were able to maintain that for 10 years once we got it up.”
Alexander, who has coached football for more than 30 years, said the Ottawa situation is much better than some others he has turned around. The Cyclones won three games the past four seasons.
“The kids are excited and motivated,” Alexander said. “They are disciplined kids. They are real good people. These kids have been awesome. They don’t want to let you down.”
Alexander enjoys building those down-trodden programs.
“The reward is so much more than winning a state title at an already proven program,” Alexander said. I like doing things that people say can’t be done. It can be done.
“Kids are kids everywhere you go. You have to motivate them, love them, and getting them doing all the right things to be successful.”
The new Cyclone coach said the task involves hard work and commitment by everyone involved.
“There is a process,” Alexander said. “If the kids know you care about them, you love them, always going to be there and give them something to look forward to, they will stay with you. The kids have done that this summer.”
Alexander spent this summer introducing his style of football and changing the mindset.
“It is a great opportunity to get this going,” he said. “This is about doing all the things it takes to be successful. We are not as strong as we need to be. We are lacking in that right now. It takes a year-and-a-half to two years to catch up in the weight room. As far as the mental state, athleticism and doing everything right has been great. We will get there.”
Alexander told the players there are certain keys to improving. Those include attending team camps, playing in 7-on-7 scrimmages, have powerlifting teams and relentless work ethic.
“I explained that to the kids when I first met with them,” he said. “They bought in. We have been to four team camps, a couple of 7-on-7’s and practiced four days a week all summer long. We had a nice head start, especially with this being a new program.”
Alexander introduced a different philosophy with his fast-style of football.
“I believe in playing fast on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We are practicing fast because kids get bored standing around. We will have multiple formations. We spread it to run it. Depending on the ability of our receivers and quarterbacks, I will throw it more. I love play-action passing. [Senior quarterback] Noah McCullough is extremely good at those. You coach to people’s strengths. We are not a true drop back passing team.”
The fast pace is designed to keep defenses from changing personnel and overpowering weaker teams, Alexander said.
“We will make it hard on the defense and do it at a fast pace,” he said. “We don’t set kids in the same place or formation on every play. Sometimes Zion [Woodin] will be in the backfield, sometimes Zion is the H-back. Sometimes Reece [Fogle] is the running back and sometimes he is in the slot running jet. We are moving people around.”
On defense, the Cyclones will line-up in a 3-5 formation and attack.
“I like to blitz,” Alexander said. “That is what our kids are best at now. We are moving our line and not sitting there and reading stuff. They can move. They can avoid blocks and we are dictating the action. We can’t sit and blitz all night, so we have to get better at our base defense, read the keys and still be [fast]. That will take some time.”
Building a Culture
Alexander quickly went about changing the culture and atmosphere surrounding the program. His big thing is making it fun for the players and the community.
“I want to make the [team] culture exciting,” he said. “We are all about every play. When people leave the stadium they should be proud of how hard you play. If you do that, everything will fall into place. We will be more competitive right out the gate. They are going to be fun to watch. We are not going to promise wins or losses. We will promise a more fun, exciting, competitive every play spirit on the field. That is what our kids know they are going to do. “They understand win or lose, we are going to play same all the time, the first snap to the last. Leave it all out on the field and what happens, happens. We are not going to go from winning three games in four years to state champions. We are going to talk about winning every play. Play as hard as we can every play, not let anyone down, working so hard in the weight room and doing all the stuff in the summer. If we do everything we can to be successful, we can live with that.”
Part of building a bridge with the community will be putting posters in businesses, players entering the field through a tunnel and smoke and having people with signs throughout the stadium.
“It is about creating a positive atmosphere,” Alexander said. “Once we get more success, see the product on the field, see the environment we create in program with the tunnels and posters…the community has to see that then they start talking about it. We want to get our posters out in every business.”
Alexander said the players are all in and coachable.
“I love this group,” he said. “They are smart. Every play, you are playing for more than yourself. Effort, play, guts and heart and not letting your teammates down, that is what it is to me. It is a mindset.”