Ryan Hall has been coach of the North Side football program for three years, but to him, sometimes it feels like much longer.
The positives and negatives have been numerous for Hall, from ending long losing streaks to Snider and Bishop Dwenger to dealing with attitude issues and on-field missteps. But after two-plus seasons at the helm of the Redskins, Hall believes the program is beginning to represent his vision of what he wants his team to stand for.
“I have lots of respect for (former North Side and current Bluffton coach Casey Kolkman), we just go about things differently, and that's not a good or bad thing,” Hall said. “I wanted to hold our kids more accountable in the classroom and in the community. I wanted them to be on time to school and practice and not skipping those things, and if they did, there would be punishments.”
In his six years at the helm of the Redskins, Kolkman took a Class 5A laughingstock and turned it into a respectable program. For Hall, he believes he is adding the structure upon the foundation that Kolkman laid.
But it has not been easy. Coaching athletics in inner-city schools is by no means a cakewalk. It can be hard to gain respect from players who for a time were able to do what they pleased. Gaining that respect was first and foremost in Hall's mind when he took the head coaching job in July of 2010.
Once you gain that respect, players – and even parents – are more receptive to the criticism that inevitably comes with being a coach.
“It is to the point now where the kids know I love them, so when I yell at them, they do not get mad,” Hall said. “The first few years, if you would yell at some of them, they would just put their head down and quit.”
Like some of his players, Hall grew up without a father figure. At times, it made life difficult, but it allowed him a chance to properly deal with adversity. Now married with two kids and a Master's Degree, Hall is the perfect example of how not having a male role model around is not a recipe for failure.
“It would have been easy for me - because my dad was not around - to not be successful,” Hall said. “There are so many kids without a positive male role model and I think that is a coach's job to be there like that. Whenever I hire a new coach, I make sure they understand that.”
Hall and the Redskins faced a fair share of that adversity a year ago. Despite winning its most games (eight) in over 15 years, in-game issues with Huntington North and a post-game scuffle with Snider put the media and community spotlight on the behavior of North Side and its players instead of its on-field accomplishments. It was something Hall found tough to handle.
“The issues took a toll on us by the end of the year,” Hall said. “Every time we played we worried about if this kid or that kid was hit late or had something said to him, would he throw a punch?
“As much discipline as we tried to put in, all it took with some kids was one thing to set them off.”
It was a delicate balancing act for Hall and his coaching staff, trying to focus on one of the best seasons in recent memory while also feeling like they were walking on eggshells with some players on their roster.
“It came to a point where if a kid threw a punch or we had another incident, I probably would have lost my job,” Hall said. “I was so worried about things like that happening and it took away from my coaching.”
North Side's signature a year ago was running onto the field in pre-game with their coach leading them. But even that had ulterior motives.
“I was always the first player on the field because I was worried something would happen,” Hall said. “I was worried someone would say something to the other team and a fight would break out.
“It was not a good thing that happened, I am not proud of it. But it definitely made us stronger as a program and it made me stronger as an individual.”
But another off-season with Hall and his coaching staff made the Redskin family stronger. Off-season team activities helped build camaraderie, problem kids were kicked off team or not asked back and the team helped throughout the area around the school in community service activities.
All to help build a better North Side football program.
“I feel more in control now,” Hall said. “This senior class has taken it upon themselves to make sure we have no problems on the field. The majority of feedback I get from teachers is that our kids are good workers and role-models. Even our parents let me know that we are building character in our kids.
“That is what makes me most proud.”
And the momentum of last year's eight-win campaign has continued, with the Redskins 2-0 heading into Friday's showdown with Class 4A No. 2 Bishop Dwenger at Zollner Stadium.
Hall hopes his team's success does not go to its head.
“We cannot live off last year,” Hall said. “Part of me is happy for what we did, but we did not win any championships. We are not content with just beating Snider and Dwenger.”
Hall is not content. But the North Side family surely is, with its football program back to being successful, both on and off the gridiron.