EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories about Southwest Covenant’s football program’s volunteer and lay coaching staff.
By Blake Colston
When the Southwest Covenant Patriots take the field Friday night for their district opener against Covington-Douglas in front of what’s likely to be a large crowd at Taylor Park Stadium in Yukon, SWCS assistant coach Kaleb Kinney may take a moment before kickoff to savor the atmosphere.
Can you blame him?
A 2006 graduate of Southwest Covenant who played cornerback for the Patriots, Kinney remembers when he and his teammates bussed to Choctaw to play home games. Covenant had devoted fans then, but without a place to play in Yukon, it was hard to build a consistent following. Being, in his own words, “a perennial three-win team” didn’t help, either.
Now in his 11th season as an assistant coach at Covenant, those days of futility are long gone. The Patriots have qualified for the postseason in five consecutive seasons and in 2018 played for a state championship.
There’s energy and excitement around the program as this year’s team is off to a 3-1 start and has plenty of experience as they prepare for a matchup with an undefeated Covington-Douglas squad. Kickoff is set for 7.
“We’re going to play a good team Friday night, but these seniors have played better (teams) and they were 50 pounds lighter and four inches shorter then,” Kinney said of the Patriots’ senior class, whom he has coached since they were in middle school. Many of those players took their lumps as underclassmen, but now are ready to dish out some punishment.
“They were thrown to the wolves as freshmen,” Kinney said. “Two years ago, we had one kid on the field with his driver’s license.”
If Kinney talks like he takes his role personally, it’s because he does. While he is technically a lay coach and earns a small stipend from the school, coaching, especially at Covenant, is a labor of love for him. He estimates that he dedicates between 25 and 30 hours per week to SWCS football, whether it be coaching, watching film or leading the team’s Friday morning devotional. All while helping with his wife Kacie’s real estate business and serving as a part-time teaching pastor at several metro area churches.
“We love the school and we love football and we think this is a great way to invest in the kids,” he said. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”
Head coach and athletic director John Jensen, the team’s only full-time coach, said Kinney was the lone staff member left when he took over the program in the spring of 2021. The duo ran spring drills together and Kinnie made an instant impression on him, Jensen recalled.
“I thought to myself that’s someone who has to be around. He is a constant on this staff. He’s there and he’s wise,” Jensen said. “He’s a ball of energy, but also a calming voice when you need him to be.”
Kinney has coached every position except offensive line over the last 11 seasons in Yukon.
“He loves Southwest Covenant and he can really relate well to the kids,” Jensen said. “They respond to his coaching.”
The Kinnie’s two school-age kids attend SWCS and a third will begin there next fall. So, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Kinney spent the next 11 years coaching at Covenant, too.
“I get to do business with (my wife) and see my kids more while still coaching football,” he said. “It’s been the best of all the worlds.”
PREVIEWING FRIDAY’S GAME
The Patriots will have their hands full Friday night with a Covington-Douglas team that has won every game this season by more than two touchdowns. It’s mostly the same Covington squad that beat the Patriots 50-14 a year ago.
“This will be a real challenge,” Jensen said, “but I think our kids are more ready than they were last year.”
Jensen predicted that corralling Wildcats’ quarterback Ford Smith will be a key to slowing down the Covington-Douglas offense.
“You can tell they try to be balanced, but more than half of their pass plays end up as a quarterback scramble,” Jensen explained. “We have to contain (Smith) No. 22.”
Beyond that, Jensen said he expects a physical, hard-hitting game.
“This team plays tough and hits hard and we need to match their violence with our violence,” Jensen said. “Our toughness has to match their toughness.”
Luckily, the Patriots go into the game near full health.
“We had a couple of kids banged up, but they’re all back now. Everything has come together for us health-wise this season, and I think that speaks to some of our conditioning,” Jensen said.
HOOVER, GERBER EXCELLING
Covenant has found the right places for juniors Nate Gerber and Asher Hoover. The two-headed monster began the year alternating at quarterback, but of late Gerber has settled in as a dynamic running threat at quarterback while Hoover is doubling as a tight end and linebacker.
“Asher is becoming quite a football player,” Jensen said. “He’s really getting to show off his athleticism.”