WOODS CROSS — First-year football coach Russ Jones says he has 60 Woods Cross players who made a difference in 2005.
The coach refuses to pick out one who stands out significantly above the others.
"We have 60 kids who work their tails off," he said. "We want to be unified as a team."
Though the Wildcats (4-6) ended their season last month with a first-round loss to the Highland Rams in the 4A state playoffs, the team is hardly in disarray. "Why not us? Why not now?" is Jones' long-term mantra for the Wildcats, "who have gotten better and better each week. (Winning games) will not take a couple of years. The kids really worked hard" to win a playoff berth.
Players "have worked very hard in the last year, and next (season) you'll see continued improvement," said Todd Cusick, the school's community council member who assists the football team.
The improvement shows "they've learned a lot and have broken the mold of (lack of) competitiveness and a new mold is set," he said.
The Woods Cross program "has incredible potential," said Cusick. "It has the very best coaching staff and the very best group of kids around. It's successful."
Why such a turnaround in a program that was seemingly going nowhere?
Jones' answer is as old as time itself: attitude.
"The only thing I've been able to tell people is (that) mediocrity is not OK." By breaking down game film, the coaching staff helped players correct mistakes "and turn things around. Making corrections are a sense of urgency now, not in a couple of years."
The coach said he's heard players say "they appreciate the way we're concerned about them."
Jones gives a lot of credit to his assistants in helping prepare players to play. "I have tremendous assistant coaches who have helped prepare these kids for each game."
Jones' fraternity of 10 assistants includes defensive coordinator Eric Grisby and Freddie Fernandez, offensive coordinator, receivers and special teams coach, while Chad Watson and Pierre Jones assist with wide receivers and coach cornerbacks, safeties, special teams and the Woods Cross junior varsity program.
Assisting with the defensive secondary and linebackers are Rodriguez Smith, Jermaine Younger and Andy Harstad.
Other assistant coaches are Eric Johnson, Craig Whitehead and Kenny Blair, who instruct the offensive and defensive lines.
When Northridge High three-peated to 5A football championships from 2001-03, Fernandez was head coach and Grisby the defensive coordinator, and each coached at Northridge for nine years.
With Fernandez, whose entire tenure with the Knights was as head coach, "I just sit back and let him go," Jones said.
He said his persona shows "I'm not really big on yelling and screaming but trying to get kids to reach their potential. I've been fortunate to have the greatest coaching staff. I have the easiest job. It's great. I have great assistants around me."
Jones also lavishes praise on fans for their support.
"We have great community support here," he said, noting Cusick helped the Wildcats financially in getting a weight room and an ice machine "and wanted nothing in return."
"He's awesome, one of the greatest guys I've ever met. He wants to see us have success. Every coach needs someone like that."
Cusick downplays his involvement with the team. "There are a lot of folks who do things like I do. I don't want my name out there, frankly."
School administrators are also very supportive, said Jones, and have "gone overboard" to assist the football program.
Meanwhile, a couple of last year's seniors addressed the team.
They told players "to keep playing hard and said they're proud of them," Jones said. "It's important to get kids like that" to support their alma mater.
Building a football team takes not only hard work but ingenuity too, the coach said.
When school dismissed last summer, several high schools in Region 1 sponsored a combined football camp at Woods Cross. Fremont, Northridge, Weber, Roy, Viewmont and the Wildcats each fielded 7-on-7 teams for competition.
By having their own camp, Jones said, "We cut our costs in half, slept in our own beds and saw our own doctors for injuries."
Viewmont hosted the initial camp in 2000 and it has since continued at Woods Cross. Jones reports the camp has prompted inquiries from several Region 1 coaches and others in the coaching fraternity. Fernandez and Fremont's Lane Moncur are among Jones' "good friends" in crafting the camp.
Woods Cross football results
(Season record: 4-6, first-round playoffs)
Aug. 19 — West 20, Woods Cross 10
Aug. 26 — Woods Cross 31, Ogden 22
Sept. 2 — Woods Cross 40, Granite 12
Sept. 9 — Sky View 19, Woods Cross 16
Sept. 16 — Mtn. Crest 49, Woods Cross 13
Sept. 30 — Woods Cross 30, Roy 27
Oct. 7 — Bountiful 14, Woods Cross 13
Oct. 14 — Woods Cross 24, Bonneville 0
Oct. 19 — Box Elder 26, Woods Cross 10
Oct. 28 — Highland 21, Woods Cross 12