Phoenix focuses on building new culture
PHOENIX — In the face of tragedy, Phoenix High football coaches are hoping to instill a familial culture for a program and group of players trying to find their footing.
On Sept. 8, 2020, while the Pirates sat at home along with the rest of the state waiting for their football season — delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic — to start, the Almeda fire swept through parts of Ashland, Talent and Phoenix, destroying thousands of homes and killing three people.
Though firefighters saved all schools in the Phoenix-Talent School District, an estimated 50% of families in the district lost their homes, as well as 25 staff members.
Not only had the Pirates struggled in previous seasons, posting an 0-8 record in 2018 and 2-6 in 2019, they also faced the aftermath of the fire heading into the spring 2021 season, which they ultimately finished 0-6.
During the same season, another coach was pondering the idea of a return to Phoenix. Mike Robinson, who played fullback at Southern Oregon University under head coach Jeff Olson in the early 2000s, came back to the Rogue Valley following a brief professional career in the Arena Football League cut short by a knee injury.
His early coaching career included a three-year run as an assistant at Phoenix (2004-07). Later, after stints with various semi pro teams in the region, he also coached at St. Mary’s in 2019 as well as this past spring.
It was during the most recent season that Robinson and fellow assistant Patrick Shed were on the Phoenix campus for a game between the Crusaders and Brookings-Harbor. The two agreed that if and when a position came available, Robinson would apply.
“Just being at the school again and the environment coaching there again, it just kind of brought back old memories,” Robinson recalled. “Looking at the school and the beautiful facilities they had, and understanding that the kids there went through a lot — just the tragedy of the community and the rebuild.”
Less than two months later when the head coaching job opened, Robinson followed through and got the job.
He and his staff, which includes Shed, Tim Seeley, Brent Bowker, David Patstone and JJ Latu, are in the midst of a rebuild with their players, one that goes well beyond their performance on the field. Robinson believes a culture built on family and love will best serve the young men they’re leading.
“The main role right now is an extension of family,” Robinson said of himself and his staff. “(We’re) not afraid to tell these kids that we appreciate them being there, and that we love them as students and as young men. It’s part of our mantra that we tell our kids to go home and tell people in their homes that they love them and they appreciate them. We’re trying to get back to that family mentality that sometimes when people go through tragedies we can kind of silo, you know, ‘this is our problem, we don’t talk about what happens here.’ And that’s not usually how things get ameliorated, get solved. It’s having a bigger base and a bigger village.”
Robinson is uniquely positioned in the community through his prior coaching experience, as well as his job as a medical social worker with AccentCare Asante Home Health, where he works with people in Jackson and Josephine counties.
“I’m visiting people in both counties, helping build people back up,” he said. “So this comes to me kind of easy, I feel like it’s a gift, but with these kids, it’s an extra push to just have them feel that they are cared about, a safe place to go and we want them to have the best experience as a Phoenix Pirate during this tenure.”
At full strength, Robinson estimates the Pirates have approximately 40 players in the program, a mix of returning starters, others who saw playing time on JV and varsity, and even some who are returning to the Pirates after a year away from the team.
Phoenix turned to a number of freshmen and sophomores to play roles last season, and they’re returning with more experience. Sophomore Ryan Watts (5-9, 150) played quarterback and safety for the Pirates, but is now expected to move over to receiver as junior Hunter Everhart (6-0, 165) takes the reins at quarterback.
Other sophomores include fullback and defensive lineman Charles Butcher (6-2, 240), running back and defensive back Will Greenwood (5-8, 160) and center Garrett Walker (6-2, 250). Jair Ramirez (5-10, 165), a junior running back and outside linebacker, is also returning to the fold.
The Pirates will also return senior offensive lineman Trevor Sharrar (6-1, 215) and Andrew Hawkins (5-9, 210). Sharrar also saw time at tight end last season.
Robinson is also expecting a nice return for senior lineman Romi Pulido (6-3, 270), who didn’t play as a junior and is expected to anchor both sides of the line.
“He’s going to be a major asset to our team,” Robinson said.
The Pirates’ coaching staff is also a mix of newcomers and returners. Bowker (linebackers/running backs) and Patstone (offensive line/defensive line) are both returning assistants. Latu, who will coach defensive backs and receivers, joined Phoenix after coaching at North Medford last season. Seeley will split defensive coordinator duties with Shed.
So far, Robinson said the players have responded positively to the new-look coaching staff.
“The kids have been really bought in; I cannot be happier,” he said. “They’ve jelled with one another, they take everything that we’re saying to heart, everything that we’re teaching them on offense and defense. It’s more of a pro-style offense and pro-style defense, and they’re gravitating and working hard. In that regard, I’m happy that they’re learning, I’m happy that they come with the attitude to work, and they believe in themselves. That is something you can’t teach when it’s learned by kids believing in you as a coach and your staff.”
Ahead of the season, the Pirates don’t have a particular win-loss goal in mind. Between COVID-19, wildfires and the resulting poor air quality, if Phoenix can get a full, 10-game season completed with its players healthy, mentally and physically, the head coach would consider it a success.
“If we could play all 10 games and be successful with having all 40 of our guys healthy and make it through, (if) we could have all of our athletes be eligible, I would be very happy,” Robinson said.
Mike Robinson (first year)
ASSISTANTS: Brent Bowker (linebackers/running backs), David Patstone (linemen), Patrick Shed (co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs/receivers), Tim Seeley (co-defensive coordinator/defensive line/tight ends), JJ Latu (JV assistant/defensive backs/receivers).
2020-21 OVERALL RECORD: 0-6.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Sixth
13 Cascade Christian 52
27 Newport 0
7 Sweet Home 22
0 Mazama 45
27 Klamath Union 40
27 Henley 42
36 McLoughlin/Griswold 20
42 North Valley 43
0 Hidden Valley/Illinois Valley 47
0 Henley 68
9 Klamath Union 20
0 North Eugene 40
7 North Valley 21
0 Douglas 40
OFFENSE (6): Receiver/quarterback Ryan Watts (5-9, 150, so.), tight end Trevor Sharrar (6-1, 215, jr.), guard Andrew Hawkins (5-9, 210, sr.), center Garrett Walker (6-2, 250, so.), running back Jair Ramirez (5-10, 165, jr.), running back Will Greenwood (5-8, 160, jr.).
DEFENSE (4): Lineman Charles Butcher (6-2, 240, so.), linebacker Jair Ramirez, defensive back Will Greenwood, safety Ryan Watts.
OTHER NOTABLES Lineman Romi Pulido (6-3, 270, sr.), quarterback Hunter Everhart (6-0, 165, jr.), defensive back Jackson Seldon (5-10, 170, jr.), receiver JJ Jimenez (5-7, 160, jr.).
Sept. 3 at Sutherlin, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 STAYTON, 4 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Elmira, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 TBD
Oct. 1 at Hidden Valley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Henley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 KLAMATH UNION, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 at Mazama, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 NORTH VALLEY, 7 p.m.
Reach reporter Will Denner at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org