By Kurt Johnson
The end of the Dave Peck era with Bingham High football was extended slightly as he coached the Miners as they lost in overtime to the No. 3 ranked team in the nation, Booker T. Washington (Miami), in Dec. 27 bowl game in Boca Raton, Florida. It allowed Bingham to extend its season after winning its second consecutive state title a few weeks earlier in a 20-3 win over American Fork.
Peck’s numbers speak for themselves. In his 15-year run with the Miners, Peck’s teams compiled an overall record of 154-38, with 10 region championships and five state titles. The decision to retire was driven by the coach’s desire to explore new opportunities. He wasn’t looking for a time when his next team might be down a little to escape, but in fact, quite the opposite – Peck enjoys the fact that he went out on top.
“It had nothing to do with wins and losses,” Peck said. “The program is in great shape. I’ve got seven returning guys back on that defense that are phenomenal. Who wants to go out when now people are questioning you as a coach, or you’re looking at it and going, ‘They’re not going to be very good the next couple of years, it’s time to get out.’ I feel way better about the program we’ve built and then if we can win three or four more, talk about building a great foundation for a program.”
Passing the Torch
While Peck did his best to conceal his retirement plans from his players and the public in general, his decision was not a surprise to his long-time offensive coordinator and friend, John Lambourne, who succeeds Peck as the Miner head coach. Lambourne has actually been pondering on the decision on taking over as the team’s head coach for quite a while.
“It was actually over a few years, call it two years, where I knew what Dave’s intentions were due to his 30 years (in the state retirement system), so I knew that was a possibility and I had to figure out if that fit into my life and my family life, all those kind of things,” Lambourne said. “Then, probably the most important thing is there were a lot of guys (coaches) around here that wanted to stay together a little while longer.
“We have 21 coaches, we lost two young guys in addition to Coach Peck. Two young guys who were like grad assistants moved on, but everybody else stayed and we picked up three. That was a real comforting thing. I’m no spring chicken when it comes to all this. I’ve done this before and I know that you don’t compete at this level on your own. So, when I looked at all the variables, I thought, ‘You know, this is a good thing to do.'”
With 15 years already invested in building the football program at Bingham into the nationally recognized power it is today, Lambourne does not see any need to make drastic changes. He feels that his stamp is already on the program.
“I feel that same way about almost all of our guys (coaches),” Lambourne said. “I could go through each one of our coaches and point out improvements in our program that they have contributed to. Those guys have all put their stamp on this program too, so where does that naturally lead us to…it leads to where we would have been whether Dave was here or not, and that is we’re trying to be better than we’ve ever been before.
“It takes a little bit of work to start picking out places you think you can be better when you’re coming off of state titles and so forth, but I think we’ve done a real good job with that. I guess if we use ‘my stamp,’ my stamp would be carry on and get better. I feel like if we do get a little bit better that’s quite an accomplishment.
“You can’t control talent, but you can control effort, although our effort’s been good. You can look at little places where you might be able to make a little bit of improvement amongst 100 kids and 20 coaches, and that multiplied effect can have a big effect on the outcome. That’s what we’re trying to do, so it’s pretty simple.”
Coach Lambourne says the paperwork load on the head coach is the most significant change to his day-to-day responsibilities, but this is not his first time as a high school head coach, so he has been there before. He says that what happens out on the field hasn’t changed much from what it was last season and the rest of it is all part of what he does to provide his players with the best possible experience.
“When I get on the field, it’s about the same,” Lambourne said. “Prior to getting on the field, I’m spending a lot of hours. There’s some reward in that also. It’s a service thing, where you’re servicing the kids and I do consider it an obligation. That’s just the way it is. I know where we’ve been, I know what the kids want, I know what the community and the school wants, so I feel obligated to makes sure all that stuff gets taken care of.”
He also finds it comforting to know that he is surrounded by talented and experienced coaches who make his job much easier.
“I do know that I have such good guys (coaches) on the defensive side that I really don’t have to monitor what’s going on there,” Lambourne said. “I feel an obligation to help. If I can help them, I’m there to help and we have our offensive guys that have been together for a long time. Pretty good continuity.”
This is not the first time Lambourne has taken over a program that was running well. When he was hired as the head man at Hunter High, he was following up on the successes of Mike Fraser.
“Mike had a lot of success. I found there was already an expectation of performance established,” Lambourne said. “Does every coach have the opportunity to come into something that good? Probably not. You can look at success and then you can look at expectations. I think there’s a lot of programs that have those same expectations we do about how you perform, how you behave, all those kinds of things, but there are some that are lacking that.
“A new guy coming in, if he’s not replacing a retiring, successful coach, could be dealing with a lot of those things that have to be established or he might be coming into something that’s already been established. I think the best advantage I have here is that the kids know me, the coaches know me and we just carry on. We have a lot of strong personalities in this place, and fortunately we have a lot of people that are willing and desirous to step up to those expectations. I feel grateful for that.”
With all the joy that comes from the success between the lines he has seen, Lambourne finds even more happiness in seeing players who have succeeded in life.
“I love seeing our former players,” Lambourne said. “One of my former players (Mark Roberts) lives here in South Jordan and his daughter has now been my TA in class. Those are the kind of highlights, when the kid comes back and says, ‘My dad played for you,’ or you see someone you haven’t seen for 20, 30 years and it kind of takes you back. Those are highlights.
“There are also countless situations and challenges that our players and coaches have overcome over the years. Understand this, there’s a lot of these coaches out here that have to overcome a lot of things in their life and they’re doing that in the process of helping these kids, too. I think that kind of stuff is very impressive.”
So what is most important to John Lambourne when he is coaching football?
“I was asked an interview question, something along the lines of ‘How would you like to be remembered as a coach.’ My answer was, ‘He competed, he cared,'” Lambourne said. “It’s like church basketball. You’re supposed to build sportsmanship. If you don’t have a score clock, you can’t build sportsmanship. It doesn’t work, because you’re just out there having fun, so you’ve got to have some kind of competitive arena and then you learn lessons from that, and I can honestly tell you that, if it came down to it, do I want one of our kids to learn life lessons and be a good man as opposed to do I want him to be an all-stater? Just in an instant, I might want him to be an all-stater, but when I step back and think, ‘What do I care about, what’s important to me?’
“It would be that our kids end up learning from their experience, and by doing so, they become better at whatever their futures are. I do think there’s an avenue (with a troubled player) to take a kid from point A to point B using football, and then he can be a contributor to our society when he is out of football. You can’t sacrifice the whole for those small parts, however.”
Expectations for 2015
Lambourne does not get caught up in rankings, local or national. He prefers that those types of things are decided on the field. That has not stopped the national and local media who care about such things from including the Miners in those polls.
“I’ve always thought that preseason stuff was kind of bogus and I feel like you need to not accept your accolades until you’ve earned them, year-to-year,” Lambourne said. “I look at what we’ve accomplished in the past and I say ‘What a blessing that is.’ It establishes not so much the expectation, but it establishes the possibility.
“We look at it and say ‘How do we compare to the previous year? How does our competition compare to previous years?’ And we think to ourselves, well we’ve got a good shot.’ Do I worry at this point in my career the same way I would have 15 years ago? Not the same. Volume of worry is still there. I have an obligation and that’s how I feel about it, maybe more so than the expectation is the obligation.”
The strength or the 2015 Miners is most likely where it always is, in the trenches. Bingham should be strong along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, but that defensive front seven has a chance to be extra special.
“Five of the seven (return), and they’re the front line guys, so to speak,” Lambourne said. “Our two outside backers and the three interior guys. (Junior) Brigham Tuatagaloa is working at the linebacker position rather than the D-tackle position. Him, Parker Workman, Jay Tufele, Langi Tuifua and Simian Matagi, that’s a pretty good place to start – athletic, tall, rangy guys that have that little bit of nasty in them, that’s pretty good.”
That group will be dominant and that will help as Bingham replaces most of its starting secondary from a year ago. The good news for Karl Cloward, who takes over the defensive play-calling after Peck’s retirement, is that he has two defensive backs who had significant playing time a year ago around whom he can build. Cloward was their position coach before taking on the defensive coordinator assignment, so he knows his guys.
“I think that’s (reloading in the secondary) going well,” Lambourne said. “Coach Cloward is our defensive coordinator and he was our defensive backs coach. We have two guys back there shoring that up pretty quickly – Ethan Erickson and Simote Lokotui. They both played last year and I would basically call them returning starters.”
The offense is Lambourne’s sweet spot and he will continue to call the shots there, just as he has for the last 15 years spent as the Miners’ offensive coordinator. Bingham is often seen as a running team and Lambourne likes that, but he is not sure it is an accurate representation of the ability his team has to be very diverse when it has the ball.
“We like to say ‘We can and we will,” Lambourne said. “That’s kind of a little bit cocky. We can do certain things against certain opponents, while at other times we will ourselves into things because you can’t always take the easy route. Sometimes taking the hard route ends in bigger dividends in the end. We’ll mix and match that.”
The last two seasons have provided prime examples of the way the Miners prepare not just the starters, but the entire roster. This is a team filled with players who are ready to step in whenever needed. When starting quarterback Kyle Gearing went down in the last two postseasons, the team answered the call. Ben Boelter came up huge under center in the 2014 state semifinals and finals.
“One thing about that quarterback situation last year and the year before is those kids coming in were awfully good players and they were well prepared,” Lambourne said. “The team understands that.”
When Cameron Smith moved to town last year as a high-profile running back transfer from Colorado, the senior shared time most of the season with incumbent senior ball carrier Aaron Marsh. When Marsh went down in the opening round of the playoffs, Smith picked up the extra load brilliantly.
“Aaron Marsh is just a little stud and Cam (Smith) is too,” Lambourne said. “I’m not talking about athletically. I’m talking about as people, as leaders, as teammates, I couldn’t say anything more about those guys.”
Both of those guys have graduated and that would seem to leave a hole in the Bingham backfield, but Lambourne is quick to point to his depth at that position as well.
“I think I have three guys that fit that mold pretty good – Jahvontay Smith, Elvis Vakapuna and Brady Atkin,” Lambourne said. :And then, the guy that sacrifices himself is our fullback, Porter Richards, who’s a returner. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find four more diligent kids than those four right there, and pretty darn talented at the same time. It’s a little more of a stable than most everybody has, and we’ll use them, but you’ve got to run enough reps to use them.”
This year’s senior newcomer is Keaton Torre, who has moved in from Oklahoma as a highly regarded quarterback prospect. Torre is a three-star recruit who had committed to Louisville at one point, but opened up his recruiting this past summer. Lambourne is quick to point out that stars aside, Torre has a job to earn.
“I would say that now with Keaton coming in, Keaton has to compete not only for the starting spot because we have other kids, but he has to compete for validity with the rest of the team, and he’s done a terrific job of that,” Lambourne said. “I’m really impressed. What we keep telling him is ‘You trust us and this will be a good experience for you.’ He’s the new kid on the block and he has to try to figure out where he fits, and then we have to discover what he can do and what he can’t do.”
The key to running the Bingham offense is efficiency at the quarterback position and that has not necessarily been a staple of Torre’s game. How he adjusts to running the Miner system will be key to this team’s success in 2015.
“Our touchdown to interception ratios would appear like a team that’s throwing the ball 30 times and yet that’s not really what we do,” Lambourne said. “We get a lot of bang for our buck, and we do what we need to do and what we feel we can do based upon our opponent. I think that’s been a hallmark of this program and yet people don’t think that way, and I’m good with that.
“They can think whatever they want, but we have to back that up and I’ll go back to our assistant coaches. We’re able to be very versatile at what we do, both offensively and defensively, because we have a lot invested in good coaches that put a lot of time into good players. It doesn’t just happen magically and my hat’s off to all of our coaches.”
As it almost always does, Bingham’s ability to be dominant on offense starts with the big guys in the trenches and this year’s group has some experience…and a lot of size. Junior Cole Clemens is coming back as a returning right tackle, all 6-foot-6, 300 pounds of him. Senior Soni Ofahengaue returns at right guard and 6-2, 295-pound junior Tavian Myers is back at left guard.
“We’re replacing half of the offensive line, when you count the tight end, and I feel really good about that,” Lambourne said. “That’s the thing about coaching, Keith Chatelain gets those guys playing and I don’t want to take any credit for anything he does, but I’m one of those offensive coordinators that pays attention to what’s happening with the offensive line. It’s not an afterthought for me, but Keith is the force behind that success and I suspect we’ll continue to have success there.”
Another critical element for the Bingham offense is the return of receiver Schyler Shoemaker, who missed the last half of last season with a knee injury.
“I just think he’s terrific,” Lambourne said. “He’s a really good one and the guy who has the most amount of experience in addition to him is Tyler Topham, who got a lot of playing time towards the end of the season last year. He just emerged, kept working, kept working, kept working and got a lot of time. When we went to play Booker T. Washington in Florida, I think he drew three interference calls. He was just getting on those kids in a hurry and I think he’ll have the ability to do some of those same things.”
Impact of the Bowl Game
The combination of the early-season overtime loss to nationally ranked Bishop Gorman and the overtime loss in Florida in that late December bowl game have solidified Bingham’s spot on the national radar. A series of games against out-of-state competition have contributed to that.
“We played Euliss Trinity and got handled pretty good a few years ago,” Lambourne said. “I think if they’d had to play under our rules and had to travel here, that game would have been a little more balanced. Even then, we didn’t feel like we can’t play with these guys. We’d already beaten Kahuku out of Hawaii. Then we went and played Orange Lutheran in Southern California, and they handled us pretty good. It really wasn’t a competitive game. Having said that, if they’d have come here….
“Then we had those two games against Valor Christian, but I think in people’s minds there was still a question, ‘Are these guys really that kind of team?’ They were really good and we played really good football in both of those games and we won those.”
Last year’s games may have had an even bigger impact in Bingham’s own locker room, and the Miners will certainly find out when Bishop Gorman comes to South Jordan Sept. 4.
“To have played two teams (Bishop Gorman and Booker T. Washington) that, at times in the last few years, have been ranked No. 1 and to play them to overtime, even though we blew it…we blew it twice, that’s the way it is,” Lambourne said. “Now, we know we can be for real, even if we don’t have our very most recruited team. We’re still within that realm. I thought it catapulted our perception even of ourselves. I think it’s also helping our individuals to know they can play with anybody when and if they get opportunities on the next level.”