Cowanesque Valley’s Mike Schmitt to coach in Colorado
Former Cowanesque Valley football coach Mike Schmitt wasn’t looking for a reason to leave the Indians’ program. A program that has traditionally struggled in the Northern Tier League, Schmitt had started to make real progress on a massive rebuild of the program. Cowanesque Valley went 6-5 in 2021, narrowly missing out on a home district playoff game for what would have been the first time in program history.
The six wins was the program’s most since 1975. With stars in freshman running back Timmy Freeman and junior quarterback Jake Schmitt coming back, the cupboard was far from bare, too.
It would have taken a special opportunity to get Schmitt to leave Cowanesque Valley, and that opportunity presented itself when Eaglecrest High School in Denver, Colorado, called and asked Schmitt, Eaglecrest’s former coach from 2009-17, to consider coming back. Schmitt accepted the position and will officially be the coach starting on Jan. 3.
Schmitt went 50-40 in nine seasons at Eaglecrest. In his last two campaigns, the Raptors went 24-2 and played for a state championship in Colorado’s largest classification.
Schmitt will take over an Eaglecrest program that went 1-9 in the 2021 campaign and had three different coaches in the four seasons since Schmitt left the program. Schmitt told the Denver Post upon his resignation from Eaglecrest in 2017 that the reason was to move closer to family. His wife Lenore is a graduate of Elkland High School.
Lenore Schmitt had served as the coach of the Williamson volleyball team and was named Sun-Gazette runner-up Coach of the Year this year.
The timeline of events was pretty condensed, according to Schmitt. Though he had never stopped following Eaglecrest, it wasn’t until after the conclusion of the Cowanesque Valley season in November where he was informed by the Eaglecrest administration that the position was opening and they were interested in bringing the 2016 Colorado High School Football Coach of the Year back.
“(Eaglecrest’s Athletic Director Vince Orlando) asked me if we had any interest in coming back and I said ‘not really, I’m happy where I’m at we’re doing we’re doing well. We have a beautiful house in a beautiful place and the kids are doing well. It would have to make sense for us more than just a coaching job.’ And so he called back a little later and told me to talk to (Eaglecrest principal Gwen Hansen-Vigil) and I called and she talked about some things that she had some interest in as far as the job goes and what we would do and then the type of job for my wife,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt flew out for an interview and eventually decided to accept the job and return to Eaglecrest.
Leaving Cowanesque Valley was far from easy for Schmitt. The family had firmly entrenched themselves in the community. His four children were involved in sports and other activities, his wife was coaching and the family was happy with day-to-day life. It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Schmitt’s daughter Addie was named Sun-Gazette Defensive Player of the Year in volleyball this past season.
“It wasn’t anything to do with Cowanesque Valley or any place better than another. It was just an opportunity for me and my wife and family that that was something we felt we should pursue,” Schmitt said.
Telling his team at Cowanesque Valley was always going to be difficult. It’s a situation that Schmitt has dealt with in his career before, but that does not make it any easier. Indian players took it hard.
“I think that’s the hardest part… For 25 years of education and coaching, those boys are like my sons. I treat them like my sons. I speak to him like my sons and I try to do whatever I can to help them and they know that and you build trust. It was an emotional season for us. We had a lot of close games and battles won and we really wanted to change the mentality (in Cowanesque Valley) and when you do that, you do have to have those personal conversations not only with yourself, but with each other,” Schmitt said.
“And so yeah, so it doesn’t make me feel good that they’re sad. I told them that just because I’m leaving and just because I may not be back doesn’t mean that what we’ve learned together goes with me. It’s still within them and it’s going to be in their community and it’s going to be when they’re a dad or possibly if ever become a coach.
“So you want to make an impact. And sometimes you don’t want to leave so you see that impact. But we are an emotional team and we spoke as an emotional team.”
Schmitt’s players weren’t the only party to learn during his tenure. Schmitt knows he learned a lot coming from big-time, big-school high school football to a rural area with limited football infrastructure like Cowanesque Valley.
“The biggest thing I learned here was humility. There are good football coaches everywhere,” Schmitt said. “I definitely learned some differences of how to coach in a smaller environment, how to coach with fewer kids, and how to get more out of your kids.”
He’s going to talk to his players back in Eaglecrest about some of the differences between Cowanesque Valley and Eaglecrest as well.
“The stadiums we play in in Colorado, you take that stuff for granted, and I really am going to try to push this time to make sure those kids understand that they got it pretty dang good,” Schmitt said.
Eaglecrest plays at Legacy Stadium in Aurora. The facility has hosted lower level state championship games in the past and is considered one of the finest football facilities in all the Rocky Mountains.
Schmitt knows there is plenty of work to do in Eaglecrest, but he will be bringing a pretty good player with him. Jake Schmitt had nearly 2,000 total yards this past season to go along with 16 touchdowns. For the Schmitt’s, Jake taking the field as a Raptor is a long time coming.
“Jake knows everybody in that school and everybody in that school knows him and remembers him. He’s still got the jersey he wore on the sideline when he was our ball boy when he was a little guy. He stood with me on the side of the field and Invesco Field (home of the Denver Broncos, where Eaglecrest played in the state championship game in 2017),” Schmitt said. “I think we both kind of don’t realize it. I think it’s going to hit home for him and it’s definitely going to hit home for me. The first time he puts on that black helmet and he walks out there on that practice field wearing an Eaglecrest jersey it’s gonna definitely be a different feeling.”
His experience here will go with him, though.
“Sometimes you think I don’t know if what I’m doing really, you know, matters. Maybe it’s just about Friday night, but the reality is it does encompass more than just that football team. It (has impacts) all over the community,” Schmitt said.