H.S. football: Transition from player to coach about staying involved, giving back

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Lisbon High School assistant football coach Noah Francis keeps an eye on offensive drills during practice on Thursday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Latrell Thomas is an assistant coaches for Edward Little who played for the Eddies last year. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

LISBON — Noah Francis did not enjoy his first year away from football.

“I couldn’t even watch some of the games,” said Francis, a standout fullback/defensive end on Lisbon’s 2016 Class C South championship team who graduated in 2017. “It was hard. I only came to a couple of games (to watch younger brother Lucas play). I wanted to be on the field so bad. My whole childhood was playing football.”

“I needed something to fill that void,” he said. “I really missed it. The whole year I was thinking, how can I get back?”

Francis almost literally jumped at his chance when Lisbon coach Chris Kates issued a call for coaching help on Facebook earlier this year.

“I figured this would be the perfect year. My brother is a senior this year and I wanted to come back to the program,” he said. “When (Kates) put something online, I thought, ‘Well, here’s my shot.'”

Kates was just as eager to add Francis as a volunteer assistant running backs/defensive line and linebackers coach. Francis still gets a chuckle out of the title, but in some ways sees his new role as more rewarding than when he was in pads.

“It’s a lot different from being on the sideline as a player,” Francis said. “As a coach, I feel like I can have more fun with it.”

“All of the stuff I learned in high school, it’s cool to be able to translate that back to these players and watch them do it on the field,” he said. “It’s fun to watch it all come together after grinding it out all week.”

Latrell Thomas didn’t even wait a year to make the transition from player to coach at Edward Little.

An all-conference guard and defensive tackle last year, Thomas joined coach Dave Sterling’s staff at the beginning of summer sessions as a volunteer and has been helping out assistant coach Jeff Lagueux with the offensive and defensive lines.

“I didn’t really have the grades to play in college, so I just decided I wanted to help out Edward Little,” said Thomas, whose brother, Terrell, also graduated last year and is playing at Maine Maritime Academy this fall. “It’s given so much to me and I wanted to give back. It’s been fun.”

“He has such a high football IQ, to have him around to evaluate guys, it’s just huge,” Sterling said. “He and his brothers (Shammond graduated in 2016) just love football with a passion, and to still have that spark around here through him is just amazing.”

Young coaches are generally a rarity in high school sports, for a number of reasons. But veteran coaches believe recent high school graduates are even more reluctant to get involved in coaching.

“You see it in all phases of football, whether it’s coaching, refereeing or anything else. It’s like that generation doesn’t want anything to do with it,” Kates said. “It’s refreshing to see some younger blood getting in there.”

Being a year removed from playing has its advantages and disadvantages in coaching, Thomas said.

“I know a lot of the linemen’s tendencies and what they do effectively,” he said. “But it can be tough, because sometimes they look at me as a friend instead of a coach, and I don’t want to sound too nice.”

As tough as coaching a former teammate can be, coaching a younger brother can be even more awkward. Lucas Francis, Lisbon’s senior quarterback/strong safety, hasn’t fallen directly under his brother’s tutelage yet, but he wouldn’t rule out getting an earful from him at some point during the season.

“I think he’s got a lot of ideas to pass on to me, so I wouldn’t be surprised,” Lucas Francis said.

Though willing to impart whatever wisdom they can, Noah Francis and Thomas both pointed out that, as coaching rookies, they are learning even more than they are teaching. 

“I don’t try to say too much, just give a suggestion occasionally to coach Legueux and if he takes, he takes it,” Thomas said. “I’m just trying to take it all in and absorb as much as I can from him and Coach Sterling and the other coaches. I’ve learned a lot so far.”

In the first week of this season, for example, both Thomas and Francis learned the feel of game day on the sidelines isn’t that far removed from what it was when they were between the lines.

“Last week, I had those first-game butterflies, just like when I started my first varsity game my sophomore year,” Thomas said.

“Player to coach, I mean, it’s not really a big difference,” Francis said. “I still get that feeling of being out here with the boys. I still get that rush. I’m still flying down the sideline.”

Lisbon High School assistant football coach Noah Francis, right, talks with his brother, Lucas Francis, at the beginning of practice on Thursday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Lucas Francis, left, plays for and his brother, Noah Francis, coaches the Lisbon High School football team. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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