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Young and Ready

Christian Diggs, just 23, coaching Montgomery

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Head coach Christian Diggs leads the Montgomery Red Raiders in their first practice on July 26, 2021 in Montgomery.

Many are not thinking about Christian Diggs’s coaching acumen as Montgomery approaches the 2021 season. Almost all are focusing upon one number: 23.

Yes, Diggs is 23 years old. Yes, he has limited coaching experience. But age often is just a number and Diggs, his players and the Montgomery a­­dministration believe he is the right man for the job. That is why Diggs became the program’s coach earlier this year after Paul Bozella resigned following a successful five-year run.

Diggs knows many might doubt him, but he believes in himself, his staff and his team. The only thing left is showing everyone else what he and his team can do.

“It’s been awesome. They’ve welcomed me with open arms and I’ve been with them since the end of March,” Diggs said. “We’re getting 30 to 35 kids consistently at workouts and they all seem to be buying in and we’re looking for something special this season.”

Although some may scoff at such a young person becoming a coach, there are some impressive precedents. Loyalsock basketball coach Ron Insinger began his career at age 23 and will enter his 48th season there as the state’s all-time wins leader. Garnet Valley football coach Mike Ricci started at 23 and transformed the Jaguars into a perennial District 1 power.

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Head coach Christian Diggs leads the Montgomery Red Raiders in their first practice on July 26, 2021 in Montgomery.

Every journey must start somewhere. Who knows where this one will carry Diggs and Montgomery but those thinking his age is a detriment could be surprised. It actually could be quite a positive. Diggs can relate to his players maybe as well as anyone around since he so recently played high school football at Williamsport and Loyalsock. And like Insinger, Ricci and many other successful coaches who started so young, it could give him ample time to lay a strong foundation.

This is not just a temporary stop. Diggs wants to lay his roots in Montgomery.

“I’m here for the long haul,” Diggs said. “Coach Bozella did a great job of laying the foundation and starting a new culture here and we’re excited. They see me as a guy to push them to the next level and I know coach Bozella would have been able to do that if he stayed longer, too. I have a perfect storm here and we’re super stoked.”

“The team and I are very excited to play for coach Diggs. He brings a different attitude and energy to the football field,” three-year starting quarterback Logan Almeida said. “We are very excited to see how this year turns out and I think coach Diggs and the team will surprise a lot of people.”

Diggs spent the last two years coaching Loyalsock youth football. He also worked with his grandfather, long-time Lycoming defensive coordinator Steve Wiser, at the latter’s football camps. What Wiser thought especially stood out as those camps was the way kids responded to Diggs.

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery football players work out with the ladders during their first practice on July 26, 2021 in Montgomery. Head coach Christian Diggs starts his career with the Red Raider this year.

Coaching obviously is a lot about game planning and knowing the game well. But it also is a lot about motivation, salesmanship and knowing how to reach down and pull out the best from each player. Time will tell how Diggs performs, but those early intangible returns could point to coaching success.

“He’s outstanding with the young kids. Kids gravitate to him, so I think he will get kids out and bring excitement to the program,” Wiser said. “He has the passion, he has the love for it and he has that charisma with the kids. From the coaching standpoint, it’s not what you know, it’s what the kids know. You have to get the kids to understand it and now he has to experience it.”

Keeping that in mind, Diggs has reached out to coaches throughout the area. He has spoken to coaches like Lycoming legend Frank Girardi, Wiser’s brother Larry, Clarion’s coach; Lycoming assistant and Hughesville baseball coach Chris Kish, Loyalsock’s Justin Van Fleet and former Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer. All began their coaching careers young and have provided Diggs invaluable resources.

Diggs understands the more people he talks to, the better. He played for Van Fleet at Loyalsock and Lycoming coach Mike Clark for a year in college. He has seen the game from a players’ perspective and now is learning it from the other side. Diggs is smart enough to understand he does not have all the answers and is like a sponge these days, absorbing all he can from current and present coaches so he can hit the ground running August 27.

“He’s got a jumpstart on the process. I believe he can do a great job,” said Van Fleet, who was 27 when he became Loyalsock’s coach in 2012. “He comes from a coaching family and he’s always been interested in that aspect of the game.”

Just as important, Diggs has assembled a quality coaching staff steeped in experience. Every assistant has multiple years of coaching on his resume and he retained much of Bozella’s staff as well. That helps both Diggs and the players since there remains a sense of continuity. And Diggs has learned from all the coaches he has has talked to about the value of delegation.

Diggs might be the head chef, but all the coaches add different ingredients. Now it’s a matter of putting the full course together.

“His experience is something he just has to get and hopefully with some guys with experience on the staff that should help,” Wiser said. “He has to lean on them, but has to make the decisions. His label is going to be on it.”

Diggs has worn that label well throughout the offseason. The players are excited and both is relatability and knowledge have won them over. Diggs works at the school and also was a frequent spectator at Montgomery spring athletic events. That might seem like a little thing, but being visible and supportive sends a powerful message.

The players see Diggs at those events and understand he really cares not just about his players, but the students in general. He is hoping all the Red Raider athletes do well on and off the field.

“It makes a difference,” Wiser said. “I always tell people that the kids want to know, ‘do you care about me as a person or is that just about me winning games for you?'”

Diggs already has developed good relationships with his players but, obviously, he wants to win as well. It’s a balancing act and Diggs is doing all he can to equally juggle all aspects.

Ironically, his youth could provide Diggs one key advantage — time. Diggs does not yet have a family. Coaching has pretty much become a year-long endeavor and Diggs may be able to focus more time on his team than those who have children and other aspects of life they must tend to as well.

One can come up with a list of pros and cons for a 23-year-old becoming a coach. Heck, he or she can do that for anything. The bottom line is neither Diggs, nor anyone, can predict how he will do until he actually starts gaining that experience.

But Diggs and those who know him best are not worried about his age. They know the character he has and now Diggs is eager to validate Montgomery’s trust. All systems are go here.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity. It’s been a goal forever,” Diggs said. “Our philosophy is all gas, no brakes.”

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