|Gering’s new football coach set to change culture|
|August 13, 2015 Frank Marquez|
Photo by Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen - New Gering Head Football Coach Todd Ekart brings nearly 16 years of coaching experience to the table, and of that time, more than a few years of playoff football under his belt.
New Gering Head Football Coach Todd Ekart turned 40 yesterday, a chronological milestone which might just be overshadowed by his first year coaching the Bulldogs. His somewhat ballyhooed arrival as one of the more successful coaches in the Panhandle comes after Gering’s two consecutive losing seasons. But don’t expect a miraculous turnaround for the Bulldogs football program. Ekart said, there’s work to be done.
Fans watched as Gering’s program slid into mediocrity under Head Coach Jimmie Rhodes, whose tenure lasted four years. Under Rhodes, the Bulldogs went 0-9 during the 2014 season, and 2-7 in the previous season. His overall record at Gering was 12-25.
“It’s a program that’s a little down,” said Ekart, who during the same timeframe had been the coach at Sidney. “I don’t know if (losing) had anything to do with Coach Rhodes. Everything goes in cycles. It might be a little downturn. Right now, we don’t have a lot of upperclassmen. We’ve got a lot of freshmen and sophomores. That’s to be expected when you have had some teams that have been down on their luck. When records aren’t good, you lose those numbers. When you take over a program that’s down, you’re not going to have those big numbers of upperclassmen. You have to pick and choose, and plug some of those younger guys in there to fill those spots. That’s what we’re looking at right now.”
Ekart bears a boxy, sturdy frame, and strikes an imposing figure on the field. You can easily pick him out as the man in charge. He brings nearly 16 years of coaching experience to the table, and of that time, more than a few years of playoff football under his belt. He coached for one year as a student assistant at the University of Concordia in Seward. After a short stint as a personal trainer in Denver, he saw the easiest way to get back to coaching was to become a teacher. Upon returning to Nebraska, he said: “One of my roommates in college was coaching at Seward H.S. He talked me into coming out, and coaching for them.”
Since then, Ekart has coached continuously, spending three years as an assistant in Seward, two years at Gothenburg H.S., where he took his first teaching job. He then moved up to defensive coordinator at Beatrice H.S., spending four years there before eventually taking the head coaching job at Sidney in 2011.
“It’s one of those things where things will get better. It can’t get much worse,” Ekart said about Gering. “I’ve taken over a team in a similar situation, and it doesn’t turn around right away. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and patience. And, the kids need to really work at it. They can’t just show up, and think that because there’s a new coach, it’s going to be a new result. It’s a matter of doing things right, and being disciplined, and changing the culture.”
Ekart will have help in changing the culture. Four coaches who served under Rhodes, remain, while two assistants are new.
“This gives us a good nucleus of guys who have been around, and know the kids,” he said. “It’s not only the kids that have to work hard, it’s the coaches, too.”
Ekart learned about a tough work ethic from his mentors. At least a few coaches in Ekart’s own athletic career contributed to his desire. Ekart, a self-proclaimed fiery competitor, grew up with a brother who was two years younger – any family with boys knows that trying to outdo each other comes with the territory. “I really like sports,” Ekart said. “And, I was lucky enough to have some really good coaches in high school and college that inspired me to give back a little. They had a tremendous impact on my life. I was looking to do the same.”
Ekart’s high school football and track coach at Superior H.S., Ron Hershberger, was one of those driving influences. “Hershberger was always really patient with me. Sometimes I was a bit of a hot head. He always shot it straight with me, and I took classes taught by him. I didn’t always get good grades, but they were the grades I earned. He was fair, and just a really good guy.”
Another coach, Tim Preuss was the defensive coordinator at Concordia. “They were just really good role models,” Ekart said. “I really took some things on how they approached the game, and how they treated people, and players, and keeping sports in perspective.
When Rhodes stepped down, Ekart saw it as an opportunity. It’s been a somewhat rocky transition, but now that he and his family have finally moved into their Gering home two weeks ago, he says Gering has its work cut out for it. Since his arrival, he says the coaching staff and athletic director have been more than accommodating. While he was coaching in the Nebraska Shrine Bowl, which was played on June 6, and commuting the 90 minutes each way from Sidney, the Gering staff helped out with conditioning, running a summer camp, and helping Ekart adapt to a new system. “When you go to some place, there’s different ways of doing things,” he said. “So, it’s been a learning experience on how do we do this, and how do we do that.”
This year, “we need everybody we got, and everybody is important. I don’t care if you’re the ninth-string tackle; everybody’s got a role. Everybody’s going to be held to the same standard. I think it was a shock to the system.”
On the first day of conditioning, there were four guys who were late. So, everyone on the team had to do 10 up-downs for every guy who was late; all the players ended up doing 40 up-downs. “We didn’t have anybody late the next three nights,” Ekart said. “The kids will meet your expectations. If you set them high, they’ll meet them. If you set them low, they’ll meet them, too.”
Ekart’s approach to the game worked fairly well as a defensive coordinator at Beatrice. The Orangemen reached the playoffs three of the four years Ekart was there. “We had some pretty good kids go through the system there,” he said. “We were in the semifinals one year, the finals another year, and then lost to Crete in a quarterfinals matchup, 42-27, in 2010.” The Cardinals were the eventual state champions that year. This year, three of Ekart’s former teams, Beatrice, Seward and Sidney, according to Maxpreps, all rank in the top 15 with odds of making the Nebraska Class B Football Playoffs.
Despite a reputation which precedes him, Ekart remains a down-to-earth family man. He and his wife Tami have only one child, Alison, 8, who will be a second-grader and probably as much of a fixture at Gering’s Memorial Stadium as her father will be on the sidelines. Though she likes to blow the whistle a few times, her real passion is cheerleading and dance. In Sidney, she was an honorary Red Raider cheerleader.
If her father the coach has his way with the Bulldogs this year, she’ll be doing plenty of cheering.