There’s no question that coaching football under the lights on Friday nights is special, ninth-year Northwest High School football coach Mike Neubeiser said. Winning games is fun, and the experience of taking home a state championship is something players and coaches remember for a lifetime. But the most exciting part of Neubeiser’s job, he said, is the opportunity to help guide his student-athletes from adolescence into adulthood and watch them develop into well-rounded young men.
“The fun part is when you see kids come back and they’re in college, succeeding, whether they’re playing football or not,” Neubeiser said. “There are guys who I’ve coached who have families now, and they’ll come back with their kids. The most exciting part is seeing (our players) grow and develop and become good people.”
Neubeiser’s football program pushes character development, responsibility and reliability, a common theme in the Northwest Athletic Department, which has won 20 state championships since 2012-13. And on Oct. 15 Neubeiser, eighth-year boys’ and girls’ indoor and outdoor track and field coach Robert Youngblood and 11th-year girls’ volleyball coach Stephanie Blake were all named Maryland National Federation of High School (NFHS) Sports Coaches of the Year—an award given out annually since 1981-82—for the work they’ve done with their respective teams.
Each of the 14 total coaches who were honored for the 2018-19 school year were nominated by their school’s athletic director and then selected to represent the state by a committee comprising coaches and state athletic directors. Neubeiser, Youngblood and Blake are now also eligible to be selected for sectional, regional and national awards, which are scheduled to be announced by the NFHS in late January.
“It’s pretty neat that there were three of us from the same school, and it’s nice to be recognized by my peers throughout the state,” Neubeiser said. “It’s even more meaningful knowing that it’s based on more than just wins and losses.”
Despite the cyclical nature of high school sports, Neubeiser, Youngblood and Blake have all experienced tangible, and consistent, success with their teams. Jaguars football, which won state championships under Neubeiser’s leadership in 2013 and 2014, is 7-1 this fall (as of Oct. 28) and on pace to make its eighth consecutive postseason appearance.
Last spring, Youngblood led the boys’ outdoor track and field squad to its fourth straight state title and fifth championship in six years; the Jaguar girls finished second after winning the title in 2018. Youngblood also joined the football coaching staff this fall to do speed work on Mondays and Wednesdays, which Neubeiser said has not only helped players’ stamina and ability to move and change direction quickly, but reduces the risk of injury as athletes become stronger and more flexible. And in 2018 Northwest girls’ volleyball, which has dropped only four dual matches since falling in the 2014 state final, became the first team to win four consecutive state championships since Thomas S. Wootton won the last of seven straight in 1989.
While Neubeiser, Youngblood and Blake all have tremendous knowledge and experience within their sports, the programs they’ve built are predicated on factors extending far beyond the field, track and court. It starts with responsibility and accountability, Neubeiser said. All three coaches are adamant that their players are putting forth their best effort in the classroom, and making the right choices in their daily lives. Every Tuesday, in a series called “Boys to Men,” defensive coordinator Kevin Corpuz leads the football team in a thought-provoking discussion that revolves around a particular issue and gives players the opportunity to ask questions and provide their own insight.
“We push things like responsibility, being on time and being a good person,” Neubeiser said. “And those translate on the field. If you’re more reliable off the field, you’re less likely to fumble the ball, or get a 15-yard penalty, or miss your assignment. As you learn to be a person who follows through on things, and be conscientious of what you’re supposed to do, it translates on the field.”
And, senior co-captain and wide receiver Isiah Williams added, it cultivates trust and camaraderie among teammates.
“Being able to hold each other accountable, and put our trust in each other, is really important and has played a big role in our success,” Williams said.
High school can be a tumultuous time and during the season, student-athletes can often end up spending more time with their coaches and teammates than with their families. Led by the example set by Northwest Principal Jimmy D’Andrea and Athletic Director Anne Rossiter, the entire athletic department feels like one big family, Neubeiser said. He, Youngblood and Blake serve as pillars for their student-athletes to lean on, and they take their positions as role models, seriously.
“(Neubeiser) brings the best out of every player that has come through Northwest football,” said junior co-captain and quarterback Will Herrington. “He is supportive and dedicated and takes a personal interest in all of his players. He always reminds us that we are students first and athletes second.”
At press time, Northwest volleyball was scheduled to kick off its state title defense Oct. 31. The third-seeded Jaguars were slated to host Clarksburg in the first round of the Class 4A West Region II tournament with No. 2 Wootton likely awaiting the winner.