With less than two months before the season begins, the Rock Bridge football team is under a new regime.
Joe Collier took over as the interim coach last season and will return as defensive coordinator this year, while former Hazelwood Central coach Van Vanatta takes over as head coach.
Vanatta led Hazelwood Central to an 11-1 record with a 47-40 double overtime loss to Christian Brothers College in the Class 6 quarterfinal ending his season.
The Bruins will look to improve on last year’s 2-8 season.
This is the first of a four-part series of discussions with Columbia football coaches before camp begins in July.
In the series, I discuss the upcoming season with each coach. Each conversation, edited only for clarity, will be released each day this week. Below is my conversation with Rock Bridge coach Vanatta from camp on June 5.
For more information on Vanatta and his transition to Rock Bridge, here is a story that ran in the Tribune on June 6.
Remind me, how many years of football experience, playing and coaching, you have?
30 years. 19th year coaching.
What’s your favorite thing about football?
I love the grind. I enjoy it. When most people right now are sitting in an office, I’m getting ready to be out with young men who are trying to do the right thing and are working hard in a very physical, passionate game. Even if I have to stay here at 9 or 10 at night, I just enjoy the grind. Not saying I don’t enjoy my vacations either, but I think that’s my big thing with coach. I enjoy everything that goes into it.
How has that adjustment to Columbia been for you?
I love being here. Period. I miss certain aspects of my old job, but I can tell you my emotions, attitude, the way I feel, I love pulling into that parking lot and walking into that door. I’m so happy to be here. That’s the biggest thing for me right now.
You seem like a very energetic coach out there. I saw you joking around with the kids throughout practice, how much does that play into the style you want to have out there as a coach?
Your kids are going to act like your coaches. If your coaches just sit around and aren’t high energy, how will you expect your kids to play with energy? One of the things I’ve always known, I am intense. I like to be involved and I like to get after it with these kids because I think when they see you care about something, I think they are going to respond a little bit more. I’ve got good coaches out here and they are working hard as well.
What’s your specialty on the field?
I’ve always been a defensive guy. Really I’m allowing Joe (Collier) to take over the defense. Right now I’m just training and teaching him what my defense is and he will take it over. Offensively we are keeping it very similar. All in all my hands will be in everything before it’s all said and done, but I’m one of those too where I don’t like to micromanage. I want these guys to work and feel like they are a part of something.
Defensively you are inheriting a pretty good team…..
I think I’ve inherited a pretty good team overall. I will be honest with you, I knew they were talented, but I will tell you what, I’m surprised with what we have out here. I didn’t expect this. I see some good things. But it’s like I was saying at the end, there is a lot of talent, but this isn’t about talent. This is about us playing together. My job right now is getting these guys to believe in themselves, each other and believe in what we are doing.
It seems like, from first glance at least, that you kept a majority of last year’s staff. How important do you feel like that familiarity is with the kids?
I think it’s very important. When sitting down, interviewing and talking with these coaches, one of the things I’m always looking for is what is your passion and commitment? These guys put in a lot of time and have a lot of pride towards the Bruins. That’s something you can’t replace.
Being a first-year head coach here at Rock Bridge, what are your expectations this season?
Day-to-day. I’ve already been approached like, “We are going to win right coach?” That’s why I’m here, so yeah, but I’ve learned being part of state championships and state championship runs, last year going 11-1, what I’ve learned is that it is about what we do right now, not what we do in the future. If we don’t get better with what we are doing now, it won’t matter in the end. This is about creating a story, creating memories so these kids can look back one day and say they enjoyed doing this. Win or lose and that’s the key for us right now.