Green and gold mixes with South Albany red and gray

Scott Swanson

South Albany Head Coach David Younger and his assistants may be wearing red and gray, but there’s a little green and gold mixed in – at least in their blood – for more than a third of the staff.

That’s because five of the 14 members of the Rebels’ coaching staff are from Sweet Home.

In addition to Younger, who landed the head coaching job last spring, South Albany is coached by offensive coordinator Matt Matuszak, defensive coordinator Tim Matuszak, head junior varsity coach Justin Seiber and Younger’s father Rob as outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator.

Though the Rebels are young, with only 17 seniors on a 54-player roster, they’re 3-5, with wins over Woodburn, North Eugene and Lebanon, and their loss to Corvallis in Week 5 was close – 21-19.

But they’re having a lot of fun and the players are getting better, David Younger said.

“We’ve been competitive,” he said. “We’re just trying to set a foundation for the future of our program. Sometimes that takes a lot of work. I’m really impressed with the work ethic of the kids here. It reminds me of the kids at Sweet Home High School. They lay it on the line for you.”

Though Younger was disappointed when he didn’t get the head coach’s job his father vacated when he retired after 30 years with the Sweet Home football program, he said it’s all worked out for the best.

He ended up as an assistant at West Albany, a perennial powerhouse, in 2011, then took over the program at Harrisburg last year with Seiber, a childhood friend, as an assistant. That gave him experience in two other programs besides Sweet Home, where he’d assisted his father for 13 years.

“The West Albany experience was invaluable to the development of our program at South Albany,” he said. “The Mid-Willamette League is probably the toughest 5A conference in the state. If you’re not ready to play every Friday, you’re going to get beat and it’s not going to be a nail-biter. Every program in this conference has great coaches.

“The experience at West Albany prepared me well. One thing we do every week is that we prepare to play ourselves. We make sure we get better every day at practice, that we’re better this Friday than last Friday. Our preparation is based on us playing ourselves, judging where we are at each stage for the season.”

He says he feels like he’s in the place he was supposed to be.

“I really feel like there was a plan in place for me to become head coach at South Albany,” Younger said. “I absolutely feel like this was the job I was meant to have. Brent Belville, the principal at South Albany, was assistant principal at West Albany when I was there and he remembered me.”

He said recruiting his former fellow coaches and players wasn’t difficult, particularly since they had developed Albany connections.

Seiber, whose son Kevin played football for Sweet Home this year until he broke his leg at La Pine, works for Selmet in Albany.

“Justin was helping me at Harrisburg. One of our goals since we were kids growing up was to coach football together. He’d drive down to Harrisburg every day just to coach football with me for not much compensation. When the opportunity came up to coach at South Albany, I ran it by him. I feel strongly that he could have been a high school head football coach if that’s the career path he chose to take.”

Both Matuszaks work as special education assistants at South Albany, so they are also conveniently located, especially since Tim Matuszak lives in Albany.

“We talked about getting the Matuszak brothers,” Younger said. “I just called them and they were both in. Matt has a really gold offensive mind in football and the opportunity to get him was big.

“Both of them work at South Albany now, and that’s huge. It’s really nice to have them in the building to help out and hold kids accountable and bounce ideas off each other during the day.”

Tim Matuszak said the opportunity to coach at South Albany was too good to pass up.

“It was really convenient for me,” he said. “It was kind of the feeling that ‘The band’s getting back together again.’”

Matuszak is working on a teaching degree at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, with plans to transfer to Western Oregon. He’d thought he was finished on the sidelines when he moved to Albany, he said, even going so far as to tell both David Younger and Dustin Nichol, who got the Sweet Home job, that he wouldn’t be able to continue as an assistant for the Huskies.

“When Dave called and told me he got the job two miles from my house, it was awesome,” Matuszak said. “That was really the one job that was better than maybe West Albany would have been. I was going to get myself back into coaching football again.”

The other assistant from Sweet Home is Younger’s father, Rob.

“From the time I was a ball boy, I’ve always enjoyed being on football field with my dad,” Younger said. “Some of the best times of my life have been on football field with my dad. I got fortunate when they moved his office from Salem to Albany last summer. He volunteered his services.”

So how big is the move from 4A to 5A football?

“I don’t think there’s whole lot of difference,” Younger said. “Football is football. There are definitely more athletes to work with, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. You struggle to find guys playing time, sometimes.

“The football’s the same. Occasionally we’ll go up against one or two or three kids who have Division I potential. Otherwise, it’s a lot like the 4A game. It’s high-caliber football every week.”

Taking over a team that won three games last year, he and his fellow coaches knew it would be a project, he said.

“We’re really focusing on developing character, developing mental and physical toughness. We came up with a philosophy that is kind of a motto for our team: ‘Leave no doubt.’ What that means to us is to do things the right way on and off the field. The kids are taking ownership.

Matt Matuszak, the offensive coordinator, said the Rebels have moved away from the offensive approach he and the others coached at Sweet Home to a no-huddle, spread, zone-read offense.

“It’s similar to what (the University of) Oregon is doing,” he said. “We use play card boards and hand signals. It’s been a lot of fun implementing this offense.”

Younger said a lot of the coaching has been about attitude.

“We’re teaching the kids to become winners in the second half of the game, he said. “We’re young, but I absolutely love the fight the kids have. They never quit. They have always given us their best effort. We had a tough (55-21) loss to Crescent Valley last week but the kids came back Monday to work and finish the season on a high note.”

Things are looking hopeful, though, they all said.

“It is just a process,” Matt Matuszak said. “We’re really, really happy with the way things have gone.”

One big shot in the arm was the junior varsity and freshman teams’ wins over West Albany earlier this season, the first time in “five or six years” that any South Albany football team at any level has come away with a win over their rivals on the other side of town.

“The JV kids ground it out and beat them in four overtimes,” Tim Matuszak said. “That was a very big win for the kids, mentally. I think they lost 50-0 last year.”

Meanwhile, it’s just fun being on the sidelines with guys who like each other.

“All the guys we brought in from Sweet Home, and the other guys, mix so well together,” Younger said. “We have fun together. We get along. We do a great job being here for kids.”