Coach spotlight: James Wood football coach Ryan Morgan

Ryan Morgan has led the James Wood football program for the past three seasons. Last fall, the Colonels finished 6-4, the program’s first winning season since 2010.
Morgan is a 1998 graduate of Monroe (Mich.) High School. He was an offensive and defensive tackle for three seasons and played baseball his freshman season there.
He’d graduate from the University of Michigan with a double major in English and History.
After college, he returned to his hometown and coached football for two seasons at Cantrick Middle School. After moving to Frederick County, Morgan coached a season each at the JV and varsity level before taking over the Colonels’ JV program for six seasons.
Q. What are your favorite memories as an athlete?
Morgan: We had some exciting games, some down-to-the-wire games when I was in high school. We had a particular big win against our big rival Dearborn Fordson, which is a very well-coached team that has a lot of history. We’ve had a long rivalry and tough games. We were playing a very good team and it came down to the wire and we came out with a victory my senior year. That was pretty exciting. Those close games when you come out on top, there’s a lot of elation.
One of the things that I really like is the friends that you’ve made and the camaraderie that develops. I remember we used to be able to leave on Fridays after school before the games. My friends and I would get together and one of the kids had a mother who made a pasta meal for us. We’d sit around and play Madden on PlayStation before we had to be back to school. It was those friendships, getting ready for the game and being in the locker room and listening to Rage Against The Machine to get pumped up for the game, all of those things.
Q. When did you know you wanted to be a coach?
Morgan: I kind of thought that I wanted to be a coach [early]. I was always the type of kid who would take on teaching preschool and Sunday school when I was in high school. I would work in the nursery at the church, so I always kind of liked working with younger kids.
My dad (Dale) coached me in Little League baseball and I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I think it just kind of developed once I finished my sports career. It was trying to help those younger kids develop and giving them opportunities to have fun and grow. It was always sort of in the back of my mind to be a coach with the way that I grew up and my mindset of helping younger kids.
Q. Who are your biggest coaching influences and why?
Morgan: My dad would be one. He did a really cool thing, I think, when I was playing Little League. He was the coach and he would play everybody the same number of innings. He coached me until I was like 13. If you didn’t show up for a game, that counted as a full game played. That taught me that showing up is extremely important. Whether you were a good player or a poor player, if you didn’t show up that affected you. You didn’t have as many innings to play the next week or the following game. That taught me a lot about making sure that you show up.
Another one of my big coaching influences is Tony Daniel. He was the ninth-grade baseball coach who cut me, but was also the football coach that I worked with when I was coaching seventh and eighth grade in Monroe. The reason that I appreciate him is that he very rarely yelled. He was always very honest with kids. He was a guidance counselor at the school. He told kids very honestly and coldly what they were doing wrong. He had a good way of talking to kids and kids loved him because he was honest with them and didn’t fly off the handle. I learned a lot from him. I still remember the conversations I had with him when he cut me from the baseball team. He told me openly what he saw that was wrong and I respected that.
Q. What is the best coaching advice you have ever received?
Morgan: This is something that applies to everything and not just coaching — treat others how you want to be treated. That’s one of the reasons that I really respect Coach Daniel is because he treated people like they were adults even though they were in seventh or eighth grade. He generally didn’t yell at kids or hold grudges against them. They got what they earned. He was honest and respectful with kids and I think that’s very important. If you think about the way you’d want to be treated and act that way toward other people, I think you generally will have some pretty good results.
Q. What have been your most difficult coaching moments?
Morgan: Probably the most difficult coaching moments I’ve had didn’t really do with the game itself. After my first year as the JV head coach, my assistant coach Derek Cooper passed away. He was 25 years old and had just finished his first year of teaching at James Wood. He taught math. It turned out he had a heart issue that caused him to pass away in early June of that year (2012). Talking about that for even the next several years, but especially that following fall when walking into a locker room and facing kids, [was difficult]. Talking to that group of kids and trying to keep the memory alive, it made you sort of tear up. You want to honor him and his memory by making sure we had not forgotten. I think that was probably my hardest moments coaching.
Q. What have been your favorite coaching moments?
Morgan: There are a lot of things that I enjoy. I really like finding underdogs. I really like when kids develop, grow and do things that other people don’t expect them to do.
We had a player who graduated this past year, Luke Esparza, who had a rough stretch of play and was feeling a lot of pressure and then he came up with some huge plays for us. He had a good sophomore year and then kind of struggled as a junior. He made a game-saving tackle to help us beat Handley [21-14 in overtime] in a rainstorm a couple of years ago. Last year, he had a goal-line stop against Culpeper to kind of seal the game for us [a 28-21 win].
I like when kids overcome difficulty. We had a kid last year, too, named Jamys Salosky. He came in as a freshman and was not very big. He didn’t play a lot as a freshman. I coached him when he was in ninth grade. He didn’t play a lot, but he just kept growing and working to get better. Last year, I think he ended up making 32 tackles or so and rotating in on the defensive line. I love to watch kids grow and develop.
Also at James Wood, we’ve had a couple of overtime games in the past couple of years. Overtime, it ups the ante a little bit. We’ve had a couple of overtime victories and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited than when that final play ends. We’ve ended both of them on defense. When the ball falls incomplete or a run gets stopped short on fourth down, everybody just goes crazy. Those are really fun moments.
— Compiled by Walt Moody