Photo by Megan Biles
With the football season set to start in less than a week, head coach Fred Bouchard resigned, taking an assistant superintendent job in Illinois. The resignation came a few hours after a conversation with football booster club president, Jason Mohr.
“I had a long conversation with him Monday morning,” Mohr said. “We talked about the football program and the Gridiron Club. He was getting excited about the season. He called me at 4:05 and told me that he was resigning. That was pretty much it. There were no warning signs. There was nothing.”
With five days left before official practices began, 122 football players and 12 coaches were left with no one to lead them into the fall season.
Mohr and Principal Dr. Scott Sherman decided current East offensive coordinator Justin Hoover was the clear choice for head coach. Hoover was familiar with the team having spent time at weekly and weekend football camps at colleges all summer.
“He came highly recommended throughout the current coaching staff and when Bouchard left we wanted to maintain some kind of stability with the coaching staff that we already had.” Mohr said. “One thing that Coach Bouchard did was hire an incredible coaching staff.”
Hoover had left Bishop Miege High School to come work under Bouchard. When the news broke about Bouchard’s resignation and Hoover was selected as the interim head coach, he quickly stepped up to ease the transition. Right after the announcement, he told the boys to spend time with their teammates and process their emotions and then be ready to get to back to work.
“He was already ingrained into the program,” Sherman said. “He is very well respected with the students and students athletes and the other coaches, so it seemed like a good choice to talk to him about being the head coach.”
Besides already belonging to the East community, Hoover had extensive background with both coaching and playing football. Hoover grew up as a quarterback and played at Pittsburg State University until he was sidelined by an injury. Along with this injury came a change in dynamic — he was the one coaching. He coached for three years at his alma mater, Nevada High School, and then spent 10 years holding various positions at Bishop Miege High School
In 2013 Hoover was doing some quarterback coaching on the side. When his players started becoming high caliber quarterbacks it developed into the Spin It Quarterback Academy. Senior quarterback Anderson Maddox has gone through Hoover’s training.
“I’ve been working with Hoover since middle school, so I have known him for a long time,” Maddox said. “ If you are at 100% then he will be your friend. If not, then you will have problems.”
After volunteering at various elite camps his players were attending, Hoover secured a formal position as a coach for the Elite 11.
“It was something I always interested in because it is the most elite quarterback camp in the world” Hoover said. “It has given me access to a lot of different ways of coaching, thinking, and teaching. Then it was my job over the last couple years to hone in on the kind of coach that I wanted to be.
He’s helped train players like Graham Mertz, a Blue Valley North senior committed to Wisconsin, to Baker Mayfield who was a Heisman trophy winner. 24 out of the 32 starting NFL quarterbacks for this year went through an Elite 11 camp.
This high level of coaching he took part in within the Elite 11 transferred into his style at the high school level. Coaching at the high school level to athletes who will be first-round picks in the NFL draft has given him a wide range of player abilities.
“Teaching wins,” Hoover said. “You can’t just teach to the bottom end of the classroom or the top — you have to be able to challenge both. That is what the interesting and challenging part of being at the high school level now is because I am able to use those experiences to reach the freshman who hasn’t been playing for very long to reaching a senior.”
For Hoover, the effects of football are more than what happens on the field. He believes the team camaraderie formed from football makes it the greatest game in the world. Though his time with the East athletes has been short, his goals for the upcoming season reflect his ideals of pushing players to be the best they can be outside of Friday night games.
“At the end of the day what we are really doing as we are trying to win football games is building better men. ” Hoover said. “ Those men are going to become husbands and fathers and teachers and doctors. We are creating better people in society based of lessons you can learn on a football field.”
For Hoover, the relationships he had with coaches were very influential on his life and the path he took in his football career. The relationships he made were his favorite part of the game and wanted to make that same impact on his own athletes.
“Loving the game. Loving your teammates. Loving your school. He always preaches those things.” senior defensive and tight end PJ Spencer said. “Hoover is very positive and instructive. He lets you know when do you something wrong, but at the same time is super positive and constructive.”