Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"The Turnaround" High School Football America's Look Inside Lubbock High School Football

by Jeff Fisher 

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than just good.

That’s definitely the case when it comes to today’s post that has us very happy at High School Football America.

If you are a regular reader of our blog, then you know we have moved High School Football America to Los Angeles for a radio show on KLAC AM 570 Fox Sports LA.  This is just the first step in a journey to become a leader in high school sports journalism.

High School Football America – SoCal, which is heard Saturday nights from 10 P.M. to midnight, is just a small part of the overall changes (check out the new logo to the left) we’re making in LA.  With the move to LA comes a redesigned website that will debut on September 10th and many new partners like Kellogg's Frosted Flakes® that will allow us to fulfill our mission of telling the story of America through great high school sports stories.

Some would say it’s hard to cut through the clutter of what’s out there for high school football fans to choose from.  Some say the country’s too big and the market is too fractured.

We say…NOT… if you go back to old school journalism, which is simply based on good storytelling. 

That gets me to the point of today’s story and why it’s better to be lucky than just good.

My lifelong friend Corky Blake, a sports writer and editor at The Express-Times in my hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania, wrote a story about our move to Los Angeles on August 19th.  The story itself put a smile on my face in the middle of a very hectic life as Trish Hoffman and I serve as chief cook and bottle washers of High School Football America.

This entrepreneurial effort is as America as it gets, and it’s probably one reason Trish added the word “America” into our name when she named the company back in 2008.

Corky and I have the same philosophy when it comes to journalism - the story always needs to be about the subject, not the person writing it.  If you focus on the story, you’ll be a respected journalist.  Corky has achieved that status from my perspective.

While Corky was interviewing me, I had a thought that I wanted to give our readers a true inside look at what it was like to be a high school football coach in America.  I didn’t know who, what, when or where, but I knew that I wanted to find someone that could find time in an already crazy, jam-packed life of high school football.

This is where the luck came in.

On the day our High School Football America story hit the pages of The Express Times and its internet site a head football coach in Texas, who happens to be from my hometown area which is known as the Lehigh Valley, read the story.  His name is Jason Strunk, head coach of the Lubbock High School Westerners' football program.

Lubbock High School has a proud football tradition with three Texas high school football champs from the late 30’s to the 50’s.

I don’t think I have to explain Texas football here, but let’s just say that a Texas football championship may exceed the best gift anyone could receive on Christmas morning!

Until August 19th, Coach Strunk and I had never officially met.  Yes, he watched my high school football highlights show called The Big Ticket on WFMZ-TV in Allentown when he was a player at Northampton High School.  Yes, he was a follower on Twitter, but until Jason read Corky’s story, he didn’t know that we were kindred spirits from eastern Pennsylvania.

1939 Lubbock State Championship team
Reprinted courtesy of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Yes, Texas is the crown jewel in the crown of high school football, but Pennsylvania doesn’t have to take a back seat when it comes to the tradition of the sport that is played at over 15,000 schools across America.

After reading the stories, Jason immediately “tweeted” me about our connection, which goes further than our hometown area of the Lehigh Valley.  I actually lived in Jason’s hometown of Northampton for 13 years.

I have to admit, while Jason knew a lot about me when he hit me up on Twitter, I knew little about him…thank goodness for Google!

To my surprise, the Google search showed an article written by Corky Blake (yes, my Corky Blake) about Jason Strunk, who left the Lehigh Valley to turn around the high school football program at Plant City High School in Florida.

Armed with Google-knowledge, I tweeted Jason back to say we should talk.  After exchanging cell phone numbers, we agreed to talk on Monday. 

As I thumbed-out the Twitter message suggesting a call, it dawned on me that Jason should be our featured high school football coach correspondent.


Corky Blake’s story from September 2011 talked about Jason turning around the Plant City program before leaving too take a coaching job at Purdue University.  It then talked about his next challenge – turning around Lubbock High School, which is right down the block from Texas Tech.

1952 Lubbock teammates holding state championship trophy
Reprinted courtesy of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
While Lubbock has three state championships, it also hasn’t had a winning season since 1975, the year before Jason Strunk was born!  The Westerners are also currently on a 22-game losing streak heading into the team’s season opener Thursday at Canyon High School.

Obviously the Eyes of Texas haven’t been smiling on Lubbock High football.

Jason and I talked on Monday, August 20th and by the end of our 30 minute chat, we agreed that he was going to be High School Football America’s poster child for an inside look at turning around a proud football program in the football-crazed state of Texas throughout the 2012 season.

And, like a typical high school football coach, Jason is attacking the assignment as hard as he’s attacking that 22-game losing streak. 

Like I said at the top, sometimes it’s just good to be lucky, and that’s the case here.  If it weren’t for my friend Corky and his connection to Jason and myself, I’m not sure who’d be writing this column this year.  However, I do know this, High School Football America is extremely pleased that Jason has agreed to do it for us and for you.

Jason began his journey into journalism by sending me several photographs, new and old, and then his first “story”.

So without further ado – I give you “The Turnaround”, an inside look at Lubbock by Jason Strunk.

Welcome to Lubbock Football…Day #1

by Jason Strunk
Head Football Coach
Lubbock High School

Jason Strunk in action on the sideline
Reprinted courtesy of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
My name is Jason Strunk, Head Football Coach and Athletic Director at Lubbock High School, located in Lubbock, Texas.

Last week Jeff Fisher presented the idea to me about being a guest columnist for High School Football America. Without hesitation, I accepted the offer. I cannot think of a better way for us to tell our story of rebuilding the mighty Westerner football program! I felt this would be a great way to get our program, players, coaches and support staff some recognition for all they do for me on a daily basis.

My goal is to share with you the daily life of rebuilding a west Texas football program from the ground up. I hope you find these entries insightful and interesting.

2012 kicks off this week! Please enjoy the ride with us!

My Background

I am currently the head football coach at Lubbock High School, home of the Westerners. We are a 4A school (dropped down from 5A following last season). Prior to LHS, I was an assistant at Purdue University. Coaching in the Big Ten Conference was the best move I have ever made. Coaching Division I football was always a dream of mine. The lessons I learned on that level will be with me for the rest of my career. I can also say, with 100% certainty, that had I not coached at Purdue I would not have been hired in Texas.

Jason & Tracy Strunk with daughter Kennedy & son Mac
Before my family and I packed up for Indiana, I was the Head Coach at Plant City High School, a 5A school located about twenty minutes east of Tampa, Florida. I inherited a program that had not experienced much success in recent years. After struggling through year one, we rebounded in year two and qualified for the state playoffs. We posted the best record (7-3) the school had achieved in fourteen years. Our program was featured on and several other major media outlets for our quick turnaround. It didn't hurt that we had a handful of national recruits either. Coaching in Florida was a fantastic experience on all levels.

Moving to Florida was a dramatic step for our family. My wife and I grew up in Pennsylvania and moving away from family was a tough decision. It was a tough decision for me on a professional level as well. I spent the 2007 season as the Linebackers coach at Muhlenberg College. We were 10-0 in the regular season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA play offs. It was one of the most enjoyable seasons I have ever been apart of. Giving up a sure thing at Muhlenberg was a difficult decision. However, I felt that being a Head Coach in Florida would help me advance further in the profession.

From 1996 to 2006 I spent my time growing in the profession on the high school sidelines. I started off as a volunteer coach and advanced all the way to Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator by 2003. From 2003 to 2006 I helped with a remarkable turnaround at my alma mater, Northampton Area High School. In a four year span we won 31 games and qualified for the playoffs three times, including winning an Eastern Conference championship. Winning 31 games in four years was no small feat; Northampton only won 7 games in four years prior to our run.

As we progress over the course of this season I will be referencing my past quite a bit. I am a firm believer that experience is the best teacher. My past experience is a major factor in my day-to-day life. I draw from lessons learned in the past daily!

Editor’s Note:  I interviewed Jason on last Thursday’s national radio show.  Click here to listen to that show.  Also, between now and the relaunch of on September 10th, “The Turnaround” will appear here on our main blog.

You can follow Coach Strunk on Twitter. His handle is @WestTXCoach.

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