Less than three weeks after Torrington lost the football coach that guided the Trailblazers to the past two Class 3A state championship games, the East Conference cornerstone found his successor.
Torrington decided to promote from within as activities director Dave Plendl announced Friday morning that 12-year assistant coach Russell Steinmetz will takeover as head coach of the Trailblazers. The Torrington Telegram first reported the news Friday morning and Steinmetz confirmed the news to the Star-Tribune on Friday afternoon.
“I’m very excited,” Steinmetz said. “We have a great tradition going on and I hope to keep that going.”
Steinmetz originally joined the coaching staff at the start of Brian Harms’ tenure at Torrington. Steinmetz stayed on staff after Harms departed following four seasons and through all of Mark Lenhardt’s coaching tenure. The former assistant coach takes over for Lenhardt, who coached the Trailblazers for eight seasons before leaving to coach at Rock Springs. Torrington advanced to the semifinals in four of the past five seasons and finished as the state runner-up in the past two.
He admitted that his system of football may not differ all that much from Lenhardt’s immediately. Not only did they spend each season together, but Steinmetz called defensive plays for the past nine seasons while Lenhardt did the same for the offense.
“There’s going to be quite a few similarities, hard-nosed football coming at you,” Steinmetz said. “That’s what the kids have confidence in at this point.”
Steinmetz plans to continue calling defensive plays. He already has a fellow assistant coach in mind to take over offensive play-calling duties. Together they hope to round out the five-person coaching staff as soon as their schedules allow.
For his first step of ownership into the program, Steinmetz hopes to concentrate on the offensive and defensive lines. In recent history Torrington has graduated linemen like Logan Harris (Wyoming) and Jake Wamboldt (Black Hills State) to the college football ranks. He sees continuing that tradition as a cornerstone of the program’s success.
“The first step you have is to get in the trenches,” he said. “You have to get these kids to buy in. Life in the trenches is not easy. It’s not a glory position by any means and I think we’ve done a good job of showing those guys that life in the trenches is tough but you can get glory in it from your teammates.”
Steinmetz plans to continue the tradition of bringing the Torrington linemen to the Grizzly Big Man Camps at the University of Montana in the summer. The Trailblazers will also host a camp in Goshen County in July. Apart from those and the standard weights/conditioning programs, Steinmetz is mindful that “these are kids and they need time to be kids.”
The Torrington football program isn’t likely to undergo a wholesale change under Steinmetz. Not that there’s a lot worth changing from a program that has become a postseason regular.
He hopes to keep the offensive and defensive systems simple enough for the younger Trailblazers to comprehend it with both terminology and schemes. He’s also hoping to maintain excitement at a program that has had plenty over the past few seasons.
Torrington graduates a significant senior class, which could complicate Steinmetz’s inaugural season as head coach. So he’s making his starting point of concentration at effort, and then leaving the rest to the football gods.
“I just hope that the kids give their max effort,” he said, “and, hopefully, at the end of the fourth quarter we’re on top of the scoreboard with their best effort.”