The expectations that come with being the head football coach of the Stephenville Yellow Jackets could be considered stress-inducing.
On the other hand, new SHS coach Sterling Doty was learning how to throw live grenades years ago — during his military training at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Now, that’s pressure. Failure was NOT an option.
Doty, now 36, was hired in February as the replacement for Greg Winder, who resigned after four seasons as the head coach.
As a 2001 SHS graduate, Doty experienced two seasons of playing center for Navy’s prep school academy football team. He then spent six months in academy training, where he learned — among other things — the real meaning of hustle when it came to tossing live grenades.
Doty played on the 1998 and 1999 state championships under Art Briles, who just last week was hired to coach Mount Vernon High School. When Briles coached the University of Houston, Doty decided to transfer there to play for the Cougars.
First he transferred for one semester to Tarleton State University in the spring of 2003, then enrolled at Houston that fall. He played the final three years of his college career for Briles at Houston.
Doty explained that he felt drawn to play for Briles once again.
“I couldn’t pass that up,” Doty said of leaving the academy. “I knew we were going to do special things for him. Just the relationship — his ability to build relationships with his players, and the ability to motivate us players to be great.
“He was like a second father figure to all of us, so we really looked up to the man and everything that he did, and the way that he led us, and we wanted to go overachieve for him and work our tails off. It was the time of our lives.”
Now, with the current Yellow Jackets, Doty can apply some of the same coaching qualities and philosophy he learned from Briles, starting when he was in high school.
It’s rooted in the players being taught to do great things with their lives — not just in athletics but also in life beyond school — and to learn how to overcome adversity. It translates into players willing to “run through a brick wall” for their coaches, according to Doty.
“It comes back to what I was shown,” Doty said. “I try to have a lot of energy every day. I try to let my passion for this game come out, in all avenues. I want to try to be a light for them and try to lift them up, whatever they’re going through. We want to create champions for life. They’re going to rely on the lessons and the habits that they create now the rest of their lives. We want to build a complete person — to take on the world and all the challenges that come with it.”
He observed, “It goes back to the relationship with that kid. We’re going to coach them hard. We’re going to have a high expectation level. When you do that, we’ve got to love them hard as well. You’ve got to have that relationship side of it. I’ve had a lot of success in reaching kids that way.”
Doty had been the head coach at Class 5A Magnolia since 2014, but he had always wanted to come back home to Stephenville as a coach. Finally, the timing was right.
“It was always on the heart,” he said. “I think God blessed me with this opportunity.”
Magnolia’s football history did not have the shining success that Stephenville’s program has achieved, as the Yellow Jackets won five state titles between 1992 and 2012. Doty said that Magnolia’s program had only five playoff teams in 35 years, before he arrived as head coach there in 2014. That school’s last back-to-back 10-win seasons were in 1959 and 1960, before Doty accomplished that in 2015-2106.
“It created a vision for them,” Doty said of those Magnolia players. “It’s just like us, they play in one of the toughest districts in 5A. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
SHS assistants Cody Moore (defensive coordinator), along with Eric Rivas and John Harrell left to take jobs at other schools weeks ago, before Doty was hired. Moore is now the defensive coordinator for Class 6A Round Rock, and Rivas (Mineral Wells) and Harrell (Rockwall Heath) have also moved up to larger schools. Also, former SHS varsity football assistants Kreg Kimple and Brad Wiesner have retired from coaching.
The veteran SHS assistant varsity football coaches who will be coaching with Doty are Jeremiah Butchee (offensive linemen), Nolan Vosberg (linebackers), Jessie Fanning (safeties), Brandon Moore (cornerbacks), Blake Johnson (running backs), Casey Weil (special teams including kickers and punters), Trent Dunavant (defensive line) and Justin Swenson (linebackers).
Doty said that one of the key lessons he has learned during his coaching career was to hire good assistant coaches and let them do their jobs.
His new varsity coaching staff includes:
Kolt Kittley — assistant head coach/offensive coordinator. Kittley is a nephew of highly successful Texas Tech track and field head coach Wes Kittley, who recently was named Big 12 Conference’s Mens’ track coach of the year for the third time in the last six years. Wes Kittley and Briles both came out of the tiny community of Rule, in Haskell County. Kolt Kittley held the same positions for four years under Doty in Magnolia.
Kelan Luker — quarterback coach. Luker was an all-state and all-America quarterback under Briles in 1998, when he set the national high school record for total yards. He was Doty’s quarterback coach the past five years, after leaving a coaching job in Florida.
August Dobraski — defensive line coach and special teams coordinator. He worked under Doty for a year in Magnolia, after coaching at Paul Pewett High School.
Ryan Craven — defensive coordinator. Craven, at one time a graduate assistant football coach at Tarleton State University, was at North Forney High last year. Doty came to know him through the coaching network.
Ian Walraven — tight ends and slot receivers. He had been coaching at Clear Brook High School in Houston.
“It’s a very good situation,” Doty said. “The coaches that were here, and that are here now, they do a great job and their hearts are in the right place. They love kids and they love what they do. It’s been a really good start to the new year.
“It’s an unbelievable place to be because we preach belief all the time. It’s one of our four cornerstones of our program, is belief — belief in yourself, belief in your team, belief in your coaches and our scheme, belief that our offseason program is the very best.
“Here at Stephenville we’re extremely blessed because we’ve got five examples (state championship years) up there on the wall. And that we’re able to point to and they see it and they can get hands on it and they understand it was kids just like them, those guys in the pictures, they were seventh graders down at the junior high at one point and were exactly like them.
“And they chose to work hard and they chose to buy in and come together as a team and chose to believe in the coaches and have full trust in them. That’s really something that sets us apart from other programs across the state of Texas. We’ve got to connect the dots with the history and make it relevant for them.”
The players finished their spring football practice on Friday. Next they will shift directly into their offseason strength and conditioning mode, followed by 7 on 7 this summer. The fall football camp is set to begin on Aug. 5.
The team will have some changes on both offensive and defensive schemes — and being predictable is not part of the plan.
“We’re going to be a multiple formation, up tempo, no-huddle offense,” Doty said, noting that was his offensive style at Magnolia.
He said that on one play you may see a tight end and two running backs, followed by five wide receivers on the next snap.
“We’re going to give the defenses a lot of different looks,” Doty said. “We’re going to play fast and physical. Defensively we’re going to run a four-down front and it’s going to be 4-2-5, 4-3 front, hybrid (depending on the situation). We want to play fast and physical, be good tacklers, and we want to fly to the football.”
Although it may be premature to talk about the overall personnel picture at every position, it’s never to early to talk quarterback.
Kade Renfro is the returning starter, but Cole Stanley had been in the running for the starting spot before he was sidelined for most of the season with a leg injury.
“Both of them had a really good spring,” Doty said of the two rising seniors. “Kade has gained 20 pounds since the end of football season, and he’s throwing the ball really well right now.”
Doty said that Renfro has already received eight Division college football offers to play at the collegiate level. Stanley is back to full strength.
“Cole is a great athlete (and) does a great job of commanding and leading our football team,” Doty said. “And, so, it’s a good situation to be in. Last year, injuries happened, (and you) have to rely on other guys to come in and to play that important position. Both of those guys, the coaching staff has confidence in to go out and lead the football team. They’re in a healthy competition right now. They’re battling it out every single day. We’ve got them playing different positions as well. It’s a nice problem to have, and both of them are going to be leaders of the football team.”
Gavin Rountree, a junior who made a mark as a receiver last season as a junior, will be the No. 3 quarterback if needed.