by Lily Clardy
Senior A.J. Libby could not wait for football playoffs this year.
He would not be playing, since his high school team was eliminated earlier in the season. But the fifth grade team that he coached made it all the way to states.
Libby has been coaching these kids for four years. “They started off not even knowing how to hold a football,” Libby said, “and now they are running plays, doing tackles, and it’s just so great to see how the kids have improved over the years.” He is proud of all of the kids and their improvements. He loves to watch the kids play.
He started coaching because of his father. His dad was the head coach of a team. He needed some help, so Libby offered to coach. He enjoyed it, so he stuck with it.
Despite his busy schedule, A.J. is committed to the team. “After my practice, I go right over to coach,” Libby said. While most of Libby’s teammates head home after practice, he runs drills, practices individually with them, and helps each kid improve on different skills. He mainly works as an offensive and defensive line coach, but he also works with special teams and linebackers. Libby said he teaches them “which way to step and how to block, and what kind of stance they should be in.”
From coaching Libby has learned new techniques for his high school team. “In games, if I step the wrong way, or I put my head on the wrong side of the person I’m trying to block, I almost instantly realize that’s not what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I am able to realize things I am doing wrong more easily because some of the things are something I basically just taught the kids how to do.”
Libby uses approaches that he learns from his high school coaches to help the kids. “I spend too much time around Coach Mac,” Libby said, ” so I use a lot of the phrases he uses, with the kids, and I teach them other things like blocking techniques.”
Assistant Coach Mike Nanartowich, who has been working with Libby for about three years, says that Libby connects well with the team. “ A.J. isn’t much older than the kids,” Nanartowich says. “The kids always say, ‘Since A.J. is doing it, we should do it.’”
Libby feels like he plays the role of a big brother. That connection motivates the team even during tough workouts. One day at practice, one kid refused to do the army crawl, but Libby went over to him and tried to convince the kid that it would be fun. Once the kid said okay, Libby got down in the mud and did it with him.
Coaching has become more than a volunteer opportunity for him. This experience has guided his career choice. He wants to be a high school teacher. “Knowing that your making an impact on the kids,” Libby said, “and knowing that maybe if you hadn’t taught them some things, they might have never learned it.” The power of that connection has made a lasting impact on him and the kids.