Submitted by Leonard Hicks, CHS Football Head Coach
When people ask why I coach football, my answer is simple – I love the game. But most of all, I am driven to help student-athletes achieve their greatest potential. Whether that potential is achieved through athletics or academics, overcoming hardships at home, or facing challenges at school or with peers, my passion comes from mentoring and guiding youth toward success in every aspect of their lives.
Athletics has always been in my blood, and I come from a long familial line of boxers, football, basketball, track, and baseball athletes. I fell in love with the game of football as a 7-year-old Rainier Beach Little League player, and the sport has remained a fixture in my life from that point forward – playing at the varsity high school and then semi-pro level until my career was cut short due to injury.
I decided to give back to the game that helped shape me as a young man and found my calling as a coach. I coached several youth football franchises over 18 years and was proud to help lead these under-estimated youth to 14 championships. In 2012, I started my high school coaching career as a coach volunteer at Renton High School and then was hired at Bishop Blanchet, where I held various coaching positions over several years – which then led me to Cleveland, where I was named head coach this spring. I have also served as the Head Track and Field Coach at Mercer Middle School for the past six years.
The Cleveland High School football team grew from 8 athletes in the spring to 27 on the roster come fall – the majority with no prior football experience. So, no surprise, this season was a total rebuild, starting with building camaraderie amongst players and installing a firm culture of work ethic, discipline, and selflessness. Creating a sustainable culture and brotherhood was my primary goal. I developed team mottos to communicate essential qualities required to grow into better players and individuals. Mottos like “Whatever it takes,” “The way we do small things is the way we do all things,” “110% effort leads to 100% execution,” and “If you had fun, you won.”
A new tradition
Each week, after practice the day before each game, the player and coaches shared a Unity Meal. With the gracious help of parents who prepared and served the meals, we sat around the table as a family and spoke openly about goals, motivated one another, expressed appreciation, and established connections. Unity Meal has also been a great way to get parents more involved with the program and their children, something this school rarely sees. For me, it was important to treat each other like family and earn that right through actions. The players have learned how to lift each other up, embrace and support each other, and face adversity together as a team.
Though our team record of 0-8 may not reflect a winning season, you would never know watching how these boys play. We were significantly smaller and younger than our opponents by far – only three players weighed in over 280# and the rest at 165# and under. This team continued to play hard no matter the score and never forgot to thank the parents, fans, and referees with the utmost class and enthusiasm after every single game. But, behind every loss, this team smiled, laughed, and sometimes even cried tears of joy that expressed their brotherly love for one another and their pride and appreciation for their Eagle community.
A truly rewarding experience
One of my greatest moments this season happened away from the football field. Poor air quality forced us to cancel practice for several days this month. So instead, we used the time for team building and to walk players through the college application process, including applying for financial aid, grants, and scholarships, crafting emails to college football coaches, completing questionnaires, and setting up school visits. One player told me college was “not an option” and that he intended to go to a job core or take on a trade apprentice at the local union. After spending the three days together, he and many others decided to attend and apply to college.
This season could not have happened without the support of my three amazing assistant coaches: Offensive Coordinator/QB/Receiver/DB coach Malaki Carter, Running Back/Linebacker coach Austin Aiona, and the OLine/DLine coach, my son Len Hicks. These young men are all current college students and exemplary role models who helped me build a culture of youth enrichment on and off the field.
This spring, we received a generous donation from the CHSAA that enabled us to purchase vital field equipment such as footballs, agility cones, speed ladders, garbage cans for position alignments, jump ropes, game socks, mouthpieces, and knee pads. We also purchased a vital coaching tool, “HUDL Sideline,” to record and instantly view plays on the field with the team and coaching attire. The donation also helped fund our Spring Football Barbeque, where we were able to reflect on our hard work and commitment to each other during spring camp.
We are looking ahead to continuing this momentum next season! Alumni and community donations are essential to continuing the success of our program. Our highest priority is new uniforms for the upcoming season at a price tag of between $11,000 – $19,000. Purchasing up-to-date helmet models are also a necessity. My dream is also to provide our players with the experience of attending a football camp. This year, many of our players could not afford the registration cost, resulting in Cleveland pulling out of the camp altogether. Finally, more funding will allow us to bring on additional coaches to provide more personalized instruction and mentoring to each athlete.
Ultimately my goal is to do whatever I can to grow these players into the best version of themselves for life! I appreciate the Alumni Association’s support thus far and humbly call for Cleveland alums’ continued support of Eagle Football.