LR football coach — Time for ‘brand new energy’ to take over Lakers

PASSING THE BATON — After six years and turning the football program around, Coach Brian Jahna has resigned.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Six years ago, Brian Jahna took over the challenge of rebuilding the Lake Region football program.

Moving up from the middle school ranks, Jahna was handed a program teetering on the edge. Low numbers and little success had administration thinking it might be best to cancel the varsity schedule in favor of two years at the junior varsity level.

Players, however, were determined to turn it around and balked at the JV idea.

Their new coach liked their spunk and sought to rebuild “the right way.” It took some time, but this past fall, the Lakers were back. The Blue & Gold posted its first winning season in a decade, and made the playoffs.

Friday nights at Art Kilborn Athletic Complex were fun once again as the Lakers gave local fans plenty to cheer about, including some tight wins and electric plays.

Coach Jahna checked many of the boxes on this “To Do” list, and feels it is time for someone else to take the program to the next level.

“I was the head football coach at LRHS for six years. Leaving was an incredibly difficult and painful thing to do, but I thought it was the right time,” Jahna said of his decision to step down as LR varsity football coach. “We did a lot of makeover work in those six years and it is a grind that requires a lot of sacrifice and energy. We took over the program when the athletic department and community were considering petitioning down a class and ultimately considered dropping down to junior varsity status. This year, we finished with a winning record, received our third sportsmanship banner, have a stable roster, high expectations, and a lot of positive energy. I feel like it is a time that someone with brand new energy can take over and really run with it. I will be rooting for Lake Region and they will always be in my heart.”

The opening is posted on the school district’s website. Application deadline is Jan. 29, and Athletic Director Paul True hopes to name a successor by February.

“He was all about character. He made sure everyone was always included and welcomed,” sophomore runningback/linebacker Brandon Sargent said.

Fellow sophomore lineman Colby Chaplin added, “What I learned from coach was that no matter what, try your best. He always expected your best effort regardless of the situation, like my freshman year against Wells. We lost, but the whole time he told us to keep fighting and if people took plays off, they got pulled.”

What Sargent liked most about Coach Jahna was his belief in his players.

“I had Coach Jahna for two years, and as a freshman, you really aren’t expected to do much on the field. He expected a lot from me as a freshman. Though being a freshman, he was not any easier on me. He was consistently making sure we were doing everything right. It showed in my second season and in Andy Douglass’ fourth year with him rushing for over 1,000 yards and me at 600. That showed being consistent pays off.”

Senior receiver True Meyers liked “how consistently excited he (Coach Jahna) got about football. It was always obvious how much he loved football.” Meyers learned from the coach “how important it is to believe in yourself before anything else. We spent a lot of time mentally preparing for games, making sure that the whole team had the same mindset going into the next game; that we’re going to win.”

The News reached out to Coach Jahna, who offered his thoughts on the following:

BN. Looking back, what are you most proud of?

Coach Jahna: “I’m proud of a lot. First, I am thankful that the students at Lake Region feel like winners on the football field. Second, I am proud of the work ethic, effort, commitment and positive attitudes of the students, which grew every year. We asked a lot of them, and they provided a lot. I am proud of the positive character that the students displayed. I received multiple compliments regarding our kids’ behavior on the sidelines, how the good condition that they left visiting locker rooms, and how we maintained our own facilities. They displayed good sportsmanship, whether we won or lost. I think it says a lot of our program that we finished 2017 with a winning record and with a sportsmanship banner. Ultimately, I am proud of our guys for getting better and the program becoming stronger each year during an era that football is universally having difficulty. Most struggling teams have either continued to struggle, drop down a class, or lose their varsity status. I believe that Lake Region football is the strongest its been in many years.”

BN. What goals did you have when you took the job, and did you reach them?

Coach Jahna: “When I accepted the position, my primary goals were in this order: 1. Establish a character-driven program. I believe that teams win because of character, not in spite of it. Moreover, strong character lasts well beyond football careers; 2. Develop strong positive relationships that help students become successful in future relationships and life after high school; 3. Establish high expectations, including the off-season; 4. Make the playoffs; 5. Have a winning season; 6. Win a playoff game; 7. Win a state championship.

“I believe we were successful in 1-5. We made the playoffs twice and received a sportsmanship banner three years. I was particularly pleased with how the students began to internalize the high expectations that we had for them. The team simply became a fun group to be around, that trusted each other, relied on each other, and enjoyed hanging out with each other. Our offense scored more points and our defense gave up fewer points than any other Lake Region team that we have data for, which dates back to 2004 — it was the first team to have a positive point differential during this time (the closest was -113).

“I think the program can continue to work on its off-season commitment and get stronger and faster for their athletic seasons. With further off-season commitment and the current strength and health of the program, I believe that Lake Region football will eventually win a playoff game and could compete for a state championship.”

BN. What will you miss?

Coach Jahna: “We have some wonderful young people at Lake Region and I will miss working with the kids the most. Game nights are when the public sees the team; however all of the practices, one-on-one meetings, film time, fundraisers and team dinners will be the times that I miss the most. I will miss the coaching staff and preparing for all of the many details needed for a successful program. I will miss competing with Lake Region.”

BN. What were the most difficult aspects of coaching and trying to build the program?

Coach Jahna: “When we took over the program, it had been several years since the team had made the playoffs and 14 years since Lake Region had a winning season. Our kids spent a lifetime hearing that Lake Region football wasn’t very good, and helping them believe in themselves was a challenge. It takes an emotional toll as you try to absorb a lot of the negative emotion related to losing so that they can perceive their future in a positive light. It was also important to circle the wagons a little as opinions come from many different directions. My family feels the pain along with me, so it is difficult knowing that it impacts them as well. My wife is the most supportive person I know and I believe she cares about the program as much as I do. She’s also a lot tougher than me, and I couldn’t have done it without her. Leading the Lake Region football program has been one of the great joys of my life and I would not trade any of it.”

BN. A few comments about the assistant coaches you worked with?

Coach Jahna: “We were blessed to have had a great coaching staff. My top priority has always been to bring in coaches who cared about the individual student first, wanted to mentor them, and would act as a positive role model. In my view, football knowledge was secondary. We have had some great character coaches come through the program, who deserve a lot of credit for helping the program survive. The coaching staff that we finished with was outstanding and I wish that I could coach with them forever. They know football and they care deeply about our kids. I am particularly thankful for Mike Shea, who joined the program when he was just a year out of high school. He was with me all six years, was an emotional support, and a great teacher. He has a great future ahead of him. Joe Gasbarro and Seth Johnson filled in very important roles and I believe the kids benefited from both of them.”

BN. What did you try to instill in the players that took part in the program?

Coach Jahna: “I wanted any football player that completed our football program to feel more prepared and competent in their next challenge, whatever that may be. I hoped to develop strong character in each student, to help them develop high expectations for themselves, be committed to whatever they do, and be good to other people. It is my hope that each student that went through the Lake Region program feels that they completed something that was difficult, that they worked hard, and that they enjoyed the process. I hope that the relationships stay strong and that they know that it never ends. I will always be available for any of my former players. As much effort has I have put into the program, the effect that the kids have had on me is equally, if not more, profound. I feel privileged and honored to have been a part of it.

BN. Could you return to the sidelines in the future?

Coach Jahna: “Football and coaching has been an important part of my life. I am enjoying being at home with my family, being fully present, and giving them my undivided attention. I believe that the Lake Region football program will benefit from new energy. I believe that a fresh start would provide me with new energy and optimism. If the right opportunity arose, then I would certainly consider coaching again, but it would ultimately be a family decision.”

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