Here is a story I wrote recently for the Elk Grove Citizen. It's about Coach Mark Nill, head football coach at Laguna Creek High School. I think he's having fun this year. One, his team is good, but more importantly, he's coaching his youngest son, Sean, a good defensive player and his oldest son, Ryan, is one of his assistant coaches:
Mark Nill is in the enviable position of being able to coach his sons in football at the high school varisty level. Not very many dads can say they've been able to do that.
And, you cannot accuse Nill of playing daddy-ball, either. Both sons have been and are outstanding high school football players.
Ryan was Laguna Creek High School's middle linebacker and an offensive lineman in 2004 and 2005. Sean was the only junior on the All-Metro football team last season. And, already this season, opposing offenses look to see where #55 is lined up before calling the cadence. Opponents admit they run away from Sean.
In fact, Elk Grove coach Dave Hoskins last season called Nill the best defensive player in the Delta Valley Conference. Last week, Sheldon coach Ed Lombardi complimented Nill, too.
“Nill is one of the best defensive linemen our offensive linemen will ever see,” Lombardi said.
The family trio are together this season on the Cardinal football field. After Ryan is finished with his classes at Sac State (he's not playing football anymore), he drives back to Big Horn Blvd and serves as his dad's linebacker coach.
Mark is enjoying this season because of this. It's the one opportunity to have a son in uniform on the team he coach and have his other son alongside of him on the sidelines, before Sean likely heads to college and perhaps more football there.
“He's probably going to be an English major, “ Mark said.
Schools such as Sac State and Weber State have really been after Sean to play for them next fall. The only factor against Nill may be his size, something his dad admits.
“We just have to see, “ Mark said. “You can be a real good high school football player, but whether that translates to the next level, you can only hope.”
Ryan really thinks his brother will succeed in college. “He's smart, he's nasty, he's just one hell of a player.”
“I think his knowledge of the game will make for his lack of size,” Ryan continued. “I know when he's talking to colleges the heighth thing comes out. Dad didn't exactly help out in that part of the thing.”
Sean is listed at six-feet tall, 225 pounds.
But, having both Ryan and Sean with him is special. “I think it's awesome,” he said. “Ryan went down south to play football last year and it didn't work out, plus he missed his brother's junior year, so he wanted to come back home. He wanted to coach and we brought him on to help with the O-line and handle the linebackers and he's really good at it. It may be something he may want to do as a career, we'll just see.”
Mark admits that there have been some challenges to coaching his boys at the high school level. “Maybe the hardest thing is to remember when you get in the car to head home, you're now Dad and not Coach,” he said. “When you try to do that communication is a lot better, but we've had our challenges.”
“Sean and Ryan are a lot different, “ he continued. “They are both the kind of kids that are coaches on the field, because they've been around it their whole lives. But, they are different types of players. Ryan was real cerebral. Sean's got a motor that never stops. He plays the same from start to finish.”
Ryan says being around his dad for this long has taught him what it takes to be successful as a coach.
“I now understand now all the things he was saying to me when I was playing for him,” he said. “It's a bit of a humbling experience to play and then coach in the same program. I wish I could have maybe one more year to play now that I understand all the things from a coaching perspective.”
He sees that he has a special role as a coach especially since he's just a few years older than the players. “I think I understand that most of the players want to do more than just football, whereas some of the older coaches just talk football all the time,” he said. “I think I can relate to the guys in a special way.”
And it's fun for Ryan this season, too. “My dad's an awesome coach and it's great to be on the sidelines with him”
Sean doesn't seem to mind having both dad and older brother coaching him. “I've been playing football since I've been a little kid, so I'm used to the fact that football doesn't stop in our house,” he said. “Sure we talk about other things, but we all love football in our home.”
He says there are some advantages to being the coach's son in high school. “I do get to see the game film before anyone else and we go over it together, but otherwise I'm just like anyone else on the team,”
And, he loves the fact his brother is now a coach, too. “My brother is a genius at football, “ Sean said. “He's one of the smartest X's and O's persons I've been around. He helps me with the whole mental part of it.”
And the youngest Nill says his dad is a great coach. “He's a great motivator and has been a great father-figure to lots of players, not just me. And if he wasn't my dad, he'd still be a father-figure to me because that's how he coaches.”
All the Nills agree that the disappointment of the past two weeks, losses against Pleasant Grove and Sheldon, can be forgotten this Friday if they pull off a win over Jesuit.
“The big difference this season was that we took the ball away from Florin and Vacaville and we gave the ball to Pleasant Grove and Sheldon,” Mark summarized. “We lost the turnover battle (the past two games) and it showed up on the scoreboard.”
“We've got to be more disciplined as a football team altogether, “ Ryan added.
Sean said the losses have been just minor potholes in the season. “Our goal is still to play 14 games, no matter what, “ he said. “It's got us more focused than anything. We will go out this Friday and play the game we played the first two weeks.”
So, whether both boys follow in dad's footsteps remains to be seen. “Ryan appears to have a knack (for coaching),” Mark said. “Sean, it's too early to say. It's going to be up to him. Maybe it may be right for him. Maybe he'll be on Broadway one day, Who knows?”
For Sean, he's got a few more songs to sing on a high school football field.
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